SACRAMENTO, California (AP) – Sports, theater and music fans will be able to take their seats back in California as coronavirus cases in the state plummet and vaccines surge.
After a yearlong ban on most indoor seating, statewide Friday set the stage for a literal scenario that could see the resumption of NBA games and live entertainment performances in most counties. starting April 15.
Most of the state’s 58 counties will be allowed to allow at least some interior seating because they are in the bottom three tiers of California’s four-tier COVID-19 restriction plan. Large population centers such as San Francisco, Santa Clara County, and Los Angeles County are in the second least restrictive orange tier. Only three counties, San Joaquin, Merced and Inyo, remain at the highest level of purple, indicating a “widespread” COVID-19 risk.
The rest will be allowed some interior seating “with capacity limits and modifications including physical distancing, advance ticket purchase, designated eating and drinking areas and limited assistance to state visitors,” according to a state public health announcement. .
At the red level, venues of up to 1,500 people can operate at 10% capacity and grow to 25% if all guests provide evidence of vaccination or a negative test. Places of 1,501 people or more can operate at 20% capacity on the red level, but guests must show proof of vaccination or negative test. The capacity increases for levels where the virus is less widespread.
State officials will not require proof or proof of vaccination for some of those events. Events that require testing and vaccinations will be allowed to have more paying customers than those that don’t. Only people who live in California can attend these live performances.
The Los Angeles Lakers announced that fans will be able to return to Staples Center for an April 15 game against the Boston Celtics.
“Obviously, we don’t know exactly how many fans will be there yet, but just having a few will bring us great energy,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “One of everyone’s favorite things is going to the Lakers games, and they haven’t been able to do it during this pandemic.”
Ben Bleiman, a San Francisco nightlife activist and president of the California Music and Culture Association, said venues need full capacity to earn money, but members will embrace change, albeit with fear.
“On the one hand, you have the excitement and joy of reopening,” he said, adding that, on the other, “there is a certain fear that something will go wrong.”
California has eased restrictions on COVID-19 as it recovers from a deadly winter surge, though public health officials still urge people to follow social distancing and mask-wearing protocols. Hospitalization and death rates have plummeted, and the rate of people testing positive for the virus is at an all-time low.
California rules are different for private indoor gatherings, including weddings, reunions, or conferences. Those will only be allowed if all guests test negative for coronavirus at least 72 hours in advance or show proof of complete vaccination. The changes do not mention the requirement for proof of vaccination and put much of the application on business owners and operators.
“Allowing some of these activities and opportunities for vaccinated people is an incentive,” said Dee Dee Myers, director of the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development. “If they can get back to some of their favorite activities because they are vaccinated, hopefully a few more people will get vaccinated.”
The new rules appear to push California toward a vaccine verification system, a hotly debated issue across the country. New York has launched a digital pass that residents can use to show proof of vaccination or negative COVID-19 test that is accepted at major entertainment venues. But Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order Friday that prohibits companies from requiring so-called “vaccine passports.”
The administration of President Joe Biden has said that the federal government will not submit a national vaccine passport application, leaving that to the private sector. But the federal government is developing regulations on how and when those passports can be used.
California public health official Dr. Tomás Aragón said Friday that the state will follow the federal government’s lead, but said no vaccines will be required for essential services.
California’s new rules come as the state has administered nearly 19 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines. Almost 6.9 million people are fully vaccinated in a state of about 40 million residents. Only people age 50 and older are statewide eligible to get the vaccine now, followed by those age 16 and older on April 15.
Har reported from San Francisco.