Gov. Gavin Newsom removed regional stay-at-home orders across California, meaning hair salons and outdoor dining at restaurants could reopen in many counties for the first time since early December.
Mr. Newsom and state health officials cited improving numbers of new Covid-19 cases and reduced pressure on hospitals that is projected to lessen further over the next month.
“We are seeing a flattening of the curve in California, but we are not out of the woods yet,” Mr. Newsom said Monday.
Local business owners had resisted the closures, and Mr. Newsom has faced pressure to reopen California’s economy. Cases in the state remain high despite some of the tightest restrictions in the U.S. Over the weekend, proponents of an effort to recall the Democratic governor said they had gathered more than 1.2 million of the 1.5 million signatures needed to add such a measure to the ballot.
The state will now return to a county-by-county reopening model, with tiers of restrictions based on counties’ test positivity rates and coronavirus caseloads, public-health officials said.
All but four of California’s 58 counties still fall under the most restrictive purple tier in which transmissions remain widespread. In those areas, many businesses that can’t operate outdoors must stay closed, and even bars and breweries with outdoor space can’t reopen. County officials can opt to impose stricter reopening requirements than the state’s.
California recorded 27,0007 new cases Sunday, according to health officials, down by nearly half compared with daily cases during the state’s mid-December peak. Over the past seven days, California has averaged 23,283 new cases a day.
Los Angeles County—the state’s largest and hardest hit—reported 7,796 new infections Sunday, a quarter of its daily cases during a post-Christmas high, according to state data.
The stay-at-home orders were meant to be temporary to get Californians “over the hump” of the winter surge, said George Rutherford, an epidemiologist and infectious-disease expert at the University of California, San Francisco. “Now that we’ve turned the corner, we’ll go back to the prior system,” he said. “I think that’s the right move.”
Mr. Newsom said he was hopeful recent improvements in the state’s virus metrics would continue and many counties would move quickly to less restrictive tiers, letting more businesses reopen.
California public-health officials said the decision to lift stay-at-home orders followed projections that all five of the state’s regions would have more than 15% capacity in their intensive-care units within the next four weeks. The Newsom administration hasn’t shared how it makes such calculations or the data behind them but said it would begin doing so Monday.
Mr. Newsom said the state has seen hospitalizations fall by nearly 20% over the past two weeks and daily vaccinations triple since the beginning of the month to over 130,000 a day. California has administered 2.4 million vaccine doses, he said. The 14-day positivity rate also dropped to 9.4% from 13.6% on Jan. 11.
The governor and state health officials credited increased adherence to mask wearing and social distancing for the improvements.
“Californians heard the urgent message to stay home when possible, and our surge after the December holidays did not overwhelm the health-care system to the degree we had feared,” said California Health and Human Services Secretary Mark Ghaly.
Still, officials warned efforts to curb the virus must continue.
“Covid-19 is still here and still deadly, so our work is not over,” said California public health officer Tomás Aragón, “but it’s important to recognize our collective actions saved lives and we are turning a critical corner.”