Not all restrictions will be lifted even if the state meets all the required criteria.
California took a huge step toward full reopening by announcing its intention to lift all business restrictions under the "Blueprint for a Safer Economy" by mid-June, provided that hospitalizations remain low and vaccination rates remain high. The reopening will require some continued restrictions, including the statewide mask mandate.
Background: Blueprint for a Safer Economy
Since August 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, California has restricted business operations under the Blueprint for a Safer Economy. The blueprint was an attempt to use a scalpel, rather than a hatchet, to control the spread of the virus in the state. The plan provides a tier-based system to increase or loosen restrictions in each county based on two criteria: a county's positive test rate, and the number of positive cases per 100,000 people. It assigns each one of California's 58 counties a color-coded tier: widespread (purple), substantial (red), moderate (orange) and minimal (yellow). The tiers restrict various industry operations, such as restricting capacity and/or indoor operations. For example, restrictions for retail operations are as follows under the different tiers:
- Widespread (purple): Open at 25 percent capacity
- Substantial (red): Open at 50 percent capacity
- Moderate (orange) and minimal (yellow): No capacity restrictions
Plan to Lift Tier-Based Restrictions
On April 6, 2021, Governor Gavin Newsom announced that California intends to lift its tier-based restrictions on June 15, 2021, provided that both of the following two criteria are met:
- Equitable vaccine availability: If vaccine supply is sufficient for Californians 16 years or older who wish to be inoculated, defined as being able to receive a vaccine within two weeks of seeking one; and
- Consistently low burden of disease: Hospitalizations are stable and low, and specifically, hospitalizations among fully vaccinated individuals are low.
If the state fails to meet these criteria, lifting of the restrictions may be delayed beyond June 15.
Not all restrictions will be lifted even if the state meets all the required criteria. The statewide mask mandate will continue. Attendance at large gatherings, like conferences, sporting events and concerts may be subject to proof of negative COVID-19 testing and/or vaccinated status and will be capped at 5,000 attendees until October 1, 2021. Employers, schools and institutes of higher education will continue to be subject to the Cal/OSHA Emergency Temporary Standards, which require use of masks, social distancing, disinfecting, employee screening, quarantine of infected and exposed employees, improved ventilation and employer-provided testing in the event of an outbreak. Finally, employers will be required to follow any travel advisories issued by both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the California Department of Public Health.
What This Means for Employers
Employers can breathe a sigh of relief that the tier-based restrictions will be disappearing, but that doesn't mean that the state is going back to business as usual-yet. Employers will have to comply with their continuing obligations under the state mask mandate, travel advisories and Cal/OSHA Emergency Temporary Standards. However, the announcement gives employers a light at the end of the tunnel that permits reopening at full capacity, and represents one big step toward a return to normal.
For More Information
If you have any questions about this Alert, please contact Jennifer A. Kearns, Brooke B. Tabshouri, or any of the attorneys in our Employment, Labor, Benefits and Immigration Practice Group, any member of the COVID-19 Strategy Team or the attorney in the firm with whom you are regularly in contact.
Disclaimer: This Alert has been prepared and published for informational purposes only and is not offered, nor should be construed, as legal advice. For more information, please see the firm's full disclaimer.