California to allow indoor gatherings as virus cases plummet

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FILE - In this March 16, 2021 file photo, a sign advertises a restaurant opening in Santa Monica, Calif. California will allow indoor concerts, theater performances and other private gatherings starting April 15, 2021, as the rate of people testing positive for the coronavirus in the state nears a record low. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez,File)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – California on Friday cleared the way for people to attend indoor concerts, theater performances and NBA games for the first time in more than a year as the rate of people testing positive for the coronavirus in the state nears a record low.

State officials won't require testing or proof of vaccination for some of those events, but they do limit the number of people allowed to attend. Events that do 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 rules are different for private indoor gatherings, including weddings, meetings or conferences. Those are only to be allowed if all guests test negative for the coronavirus at least 72 hours in advance or show proof of full vaccination. The changes do not mention requiring proof of vaccination and put much of the enforcement on business owners and operators.

“Allowing some of these activities and opportunities to vaccinated individuals is an incentive,” said Dee Dee Myers, director of the Governor's Office of Business and Economic Development. “If they can return to some of their favorite activities because they're vaccinated then hopefully a few more people will go and get vaccinated.”

The new rules seem to nudge California toward a system of vaccine verification, a hotly debated issue across the country. New York has launched a digital pass residents can use to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test that is accepted at major entertainment venues. But Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order on Friday banning businesses from requiring so-called “vaccine passports.”

President Joe Biden's administration has said the federal government won't come up with a national vaccine passport app, leaving that to the private sector. But the federal government is devising regulations for how and when those passports can be used.

California Public Health Officer Dr. Tomás Aragón said Friday the state will follow the federal government's lead but said vaccinations won't be required for essential services.

California's new rules come as the state has administered nearly 19 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccines. Nearly 6.9 million people are fully vaccinated in a state with close to 40 million residents. Only people 50 and over are eligible statewide to get the vaccine now, followed by those 16 and older on April 15.