San Francisco Chronicle

Lifting restrictio­ns: Tier system to be discarded if trends keep up

- By Erin Allday and Aidin Vaziri

California will retire its colorcoded pandemic blueprint on June 15 and allow almost all sectors of the economy to reopen at or near full capacity, assuming the state continues to meet aggressive vaccinatio­n goals and hospitaliz­ations for COVID19 remain low.

The move, announced by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Tuesday, signals a dramatic shift in the state’s restrictiv­e pandemic response, as California anticipate­s wide swaths of the population to be fully vaccinated by summer.

Since August, the state has tried to contain the pandemic — with mixed success — by relying on the socalled Blueprint for a Safer Economy, a complex, colorcoded tier system that strictly limits which businesses can open and at what capacity, depending on how widespread the coronaviru­s is in a county.

And the most likely choice will be Gavin Newsom.

It’s a gamble, and Newsom has made and won big gambles before. He was at the forefront of the legalizati­on of samesex marriage and marijuana before it was politicall­y cool to do so.

But this is different. Those were social issues involving political stakes and political players. This is a virus. There are no rules or boundaries.

If we’ve learned anything over the last year, it’s to not try to predict how the virus will act.

People creating models of the virus’ behavior “are really accurate in predicting what’s going to happen in four or six weeks. Then, after that, their accuracy drops off dramatical­ly,” said John Swartzberg, an infectious disease expert at UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health.

“No one can tell you what things will look like June 15 on April 6,” he said. “They’re guessing.”

Newsom acknowledg­ed Tuesday that California needs to be cautious about “spiking the football” too early or prematurel­y putting up a “Mission Accomplish­ed” sign, a reference to the infamous banner hung behind President George W. Bush when he gave an upbeat — and tragically premature — speech about progress in the Iraq War.

But that’s essentiall­y what Newsom did Tuesday. California is on the 5yard line of overcoming the pandemic, and the governor busted into his touchdown celebratio­n dance.

Why is that riskyAE Because if there’s one other thing we’ve learned over the past year, it’s that when things are going well, don’t tell Americans that things are going well. Too many toss away the masks, if they were wearing them in the first place, and kick into spring break mode.

“The question is the timing of this,” Swartzberg said. True, the public health trend lines in California are as good as they’ve been since last May, he said.

“But why announce this º June 15 reopening date» now, at the beginning of AprilAE Why not announce it at the beginning of May, when you can be much more sure about what we knowAE

“By saying this now,” Swartzberg said, “people are going to hear what they want to hear. And they’re going to start behaving differentl­y and not wait until June 15.”

There are a lot of factors that could derail those favorable California trend lines. The virus is exploding in India and in many parts of Europe. Not to mention Michigan.

Neverthele­ss, Newsom is making his bet. Why not, said recall expert Joshua Spivak.

“There’s some hope that this will be done with by October,” when the recall vote is likely to be held, said Spivak, a senior fellow at the Hugh L. Carey Institute for Government Reform at Wagner College in New =ork and the founder of the Recall Elections Blog. “He’s making the claim now that, ÌI’m the guy who did this.’ ”

But wouldn’t that also make him the guy to blame if it all goes sourAE

“If it’s not over by October, then he’s got problems anyway. So why not take credit for itAE” Spivak said. “If you’re going to get blamed for the drought, why not take credit for the rainAE”

George Rutherford, an infectious disease expert at UCSF, said that from a public health point of view, “it’s quite reasonable to give people a timeline.”

“=ou’ve got to show people there is a light at the end of the tunnel,” Rutherford said. “Otherwise, people get burned out on virus fatigue.”

Many California­ns already have virus fatigue. Which is why Newsom is betting his future against an unpredicta­ble enemy.

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