SANTA MONICA, Calif. (AP) — Cheering fans instead of cardboard cutouts at Dodger Stadium. Screaming thrill-seekers riding the Giant Dipper roller coaster at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Beer lovers bellying up to, well, a table outside a brewery.
Even with some limitations that exclude drinking at a bar, a lot of activities Californians haven’t been able to enjoy for most of the past year are suddenly within reach as the state reopens more widely.
April is bringing a fresh breath of warm spring air after a stale year of coronavirus closures. It also may be unleashing a strain of spring fever that was dormant after Gov. Gavin Newsom imposed the first statewide lockdown last March.
“After about a year of being hidden inside, nobody knows how to behave when they go out in public,” cartoon portrait artist Walt Davis said Wednesday while waiting for customers near the Santa Monica Pier. “It’s been nuts. People come out in public just go crazy right now.”
April arrives with COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths dropping and new infections remaining low. Vaccines open more widely Thursday — to people 50 and over — although supplies remain limited.
But health officials are still urging caution to avoid a fourth wave of the pandemic sweeping across much of the U.S. and other parts of the world.
Dr. George Rutherford, an epidemiologist at the University of California, San Francisco, said the state was in better shape than others because 12 million people have received at least one dose of vaccine and there’s a fair bit of immunity — with an estimated 37% of people in Los Angeles County having been infected.
“California has a shot. I think we have a good chance of beating the fourth wave,” Rutherford said. “We’re much more conservative in (easing) restrictions. So we’re moving very slowly through the tiers unlike other states that have thrown caution to the wind.”
Nearly half of California’s 40 million people live in areas where restrictions are easing to some degree and some of the largest counties are preparing to allow more people to watch a movie at the cinema, attend church services or dine in a restaurant.
Los Angeles County, with a quarter of the state’s population and 40% of the deaths, was approved Tuesday to move into the the orange tier — the second-to-lowest — but opted to wait another week to make sure it holds the line on new infections.
Neighboring Orange County, the state’s third most populous with 3 million residents, moved immediately into that tier, allowing restaurants, theaters, museums and houses of worship to allow people indoors at 50% capacity. Bars that don’t serve food can operate outdoors.
As Orange County officials announced a new vaccination site at the county fairgrounds Wednesday, they also cautioned against ditching face masks or mingling too closely with people outside the household.
“Every day that we can postpone any additional bad news coming, that’s another day we have to vaccinate more people,” said Supervisor Doug Chaffee. “That’s really the best defense we have.”
The arrival of April comes with much of the state basking in summery temperatures during a week that is spring break for a lot of students who have been cooped up and learning from home. Those two factors and the broader reopening that includes a recent return to indoor dining drove a mini tourist boom Wednesday at the beaches in Southern California.
In Huntington Beach, aka “Surf City USA,” which hosted protests against coronavirus closures and mask mandates, people strolled through downtown wearing bathing suits and shorts and — occasionally — face masks. They toted towels and beach chairs as temperatures rose into the 80s.
Colorful umbrellas dotted the beach in Santa Monica and hundreds of people stood in the cool waters near the pier as head-high waves rolled ashore. Tourists from far and near flocked to the scenic pier that was closed throughout much of the pandemic, lining up outside restaurants that are still at limited capacity.
Morgan Reliford said business has been robust at Blazing Saddles, where she had rented out more than 120 bikes by 2 p.m.
Reliford, who wore a mask and purple rubber gloves, said she felt things were reopening too quickly for her comfort.
“I feel like we’re bored and frustrated with being in the house that we’re kind of rushing it,” she said.
Thursday marks the opening of day of Major League Baseball with games in Oakland, Anaheim and San Diego before fans for the first time in California since 2019.
The San Diego Padres will be limited to 20% seating capacity, because the second-largest county is in the red tier. If LA moves to the orange tier next week, the World Series-defending Dodgers will be able to hold their home opener April 9 with a third of the stadium full.
The arrival of April also is the first day theme parks will be able to operate, though they’ll be limited to 15% capacity and masks will be required.
In addition to the park at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk, Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia and Legoland in Carlsbad are reopening.
Junior Simental, a state prison guard who was waiting with his family to be called for a table at a restaurant on the Santa Monica Pier, said his family can’t wait to hit the amusement parks
“We’re going to do all of ’em: Six Flags, Disneyland, Universal (Studios),” Simental said. “As soon as we get the chance.”
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