Los Angeles (and indeed all of California) has been focused on one single date for much of the past two months: June 15. That’s when Governor Gavin Newsom says the state could “fully reopen,” emerging from the ongoing global pandemic thanks to robust vaccination efforts involving many of the state’s 40 million inhabitants. With COVID-19 cases at their lowest levels yet, restrictions have already been eased dramatically from the highs of last summer and the deadly late-2020 winter surge. So what will a world after June 15 actually look like for diners, restaurant workers, and business owners?
The short answer to that question continues to be: Nobody knows quite yet, though there have been increasingly public signs of what’s to come. So with a week left before June 15, here’s what Los Angeles needs to know about a broad, state-level reopening, right now.
Protocols are going bye bye
This week, Los Angeles County health officer Dr. Muntu Davis said plainly at a public press conference that “protocols for sectors like restaurants will be retired,” meaning no more distancing between tables, no more rules about who can touch which items on the tables, and no more need for QR codes to guide diners to digital menus. “I would imagine we go back to business as usual,” Dr. Davis added.
Aligning with the state
Officials like Dr. Davis and Dr. Barbara Ferrer of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health — which oversees not only general public health across most of the county (with the exception of Long Beach and Pasadena) but also the rules and safety regulations regarding restaurants — have repeatedly said that their office would align directly with the state’s guidance for reopening. That guidance has yet to be handed out to workers and business owners, but could come any day in the lead-up to June 15. In short, expect no more county-by-county tier systems, no more limited reopenings or closings, and (in many cases) no more need to socially distance, wear masks, or do many of the other things that Angelenos have been asked to do over the past 14-plus months. As with all things, the state’s guidance supersedes any more relaxed guidance from local or regional officials, though those officials could choose to be more strict than the state, however unlikely that would be.
But there could be a few catches
Because the state’s formal reopening guidance has not been announced yet, technically anything could still happen. More than likely, June 15 will stand as the primary reopening day for the entire state, but the term “fully” that was previously used by Newsom is potentially going to look a bit different than originally intended. For example: Cal/OSHA has recently stated that, at workplaces with a mix of vaccinated and unvaccinated employees, everyone should continue to wear masks. Employers would also be required to keep an updated log of the vaccination status of its workers — both far cries from the “normal” pre-pandemic times.
Dr. Ferrer has previously said that her office is “fully aligning with the Cal/OSHA,” on this and other issues, so it’s possible that masks in the workplace could be around for a while at some restaurants, grocery stores, and other food sites. As for whether or not employees would be required to continue to wear masks if diners were unvaccinated (and how they would ask for or prove that), the details are still under wraps.
Questions and answers
Because there are so many outstanding questions so far, the LA Department of Public Health has committed to hosting an open virtual town hall-style question and answer session on Thursday, June 10 at 6 p.m., with a promise to offer “the latest updates on the June 15th reopening.” Curious folks can submit questions in advance.
And what about the rest of America?
It’s important to note one last caveat to all of this: California is close to or ahead of just about every other state when it comes to vaccination rates among its massive population. That’s good news for domestic travel and LA’s battered tourism industry, but rates of overall vaccination are continuing to fall nationally. Because fewer and fewer people are either left to get the vaccine, or willing to get the vaccine, actual herd immunity (where the virus cannot grow its spread exponentially) is becoming a dim possibility. It’s even possible that the federal government could step in to make further mandates that would affect life and public health locally after June 15, but again, that’s unlikely. President Joe Biden has previously said that 70 percent of adults will have received at least one dose of a vaccine by July 4 of this year, though that benchmark is also increasingly unlikely.
As for how those dropping rates will affect local life (if at all), stay tuned. Governor Newsom has said that the state’s ongoing emergency order, put in place at the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, will remain in effect after June 15. That order gives broad authority to direct public funds and make temporary rules like curfews, mask-wearing, and the closure of businesses a part of everyday life. Newsom’s office says that the coronavirus pandemic isn’t over just yet, despite the encouraging numbers at the state level, though it seems less probable (particularly as Newsom faces a recall effort on the ballot) that a new round of lockdowns would land across Los Angeles any time soon. Really, everyone is just gearing up for a June 15 reopening, followed by a big summer boost — even if firm details are still hard to come by so far.