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By Shawn Raymundo

In mid-March of 2020, a statewide order for Californians to stay at home was met with anxiety and angst. Coronavirus cases were on the rise, and to curb the spread, non-essential businesses were told to lock up and residents to limit trips outside the home.

Since that time, California’s businesses and its roughly 40 million residents were faced with a continued sense of uncertainty, enduring pandemic-related restrictions that continued to evolve and shift based on COVID-19 metrics.

Fifteen months later, those fears have turned into jubilation, as the state on Tuesday, June 15, lifted its restrictions, allowing businesses to operate at full capacity without social distancing requirements, and for fully vaccinated residents to ditch the face masks even indoors.

The long-awaited reopening date came as the spread of transmission continues to fall and more Californians receive available vaccines. As of Tuesday, 55.6% of California’s population had been fully vaccinated, according to the state.

Hayley Ceja, a 21-year-old bartender at Avila’s El Ranchito, chats with customer Rick Foster, 57, of La Quinta, on Tuesday afternoon, June 15. Photo: Shawn Raymundo

Speaking from the entrance of Universal Studios Hollywood on Tuesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom declared, “We’re finally here.” He added, however, that the day shouldn’t be considered as “mission accomplished,” nor does it represent the state spiking the football.

“It’s been a tough year for all of us, a tough 15 months for all of us, all the fear and anxiety that we’ve all had to work through—and I’m mindful of that stress still upon so many of you,” Newsom said. “I recognize the incredible burden that’s been placed on you over the last year, but I want folks to know that the state has your back as we come back.”

Newsom boasted about the state’s metrics, noting that California has one of the highest vaccination rates in the nation and one of the lowest case rates. He attributed those accomplishments to the state’s observance of data and science, and “not ideology.”

Though celebrating the efforts to lead in those categories, Newsom stressed that there’s still more work to do in getting residents to take the vaccine and to address the COVID variants.

“We do need to keep our guard up; we can’t let our guard down,” he said, in front of a podium that said, “California Roars Back.”

For businesses such as Avila’s El Ranchito in Downtown San Clemente that have had to weather the storm for the past 15 months, at times only offering takeout, the full reopening is certainly cause for celebration.

“We’re very happy to open up. When you do just to-gos, it’s hard to survive,” said restaurant manager Tino Ayala. “It’s important for us and my boss. We’re very happy, because the business is becoming normal. Customers, the regulars are very happy, because we can open the bar and they can sit down and relax and talk to each other.”

Just up Avenida Del Mar, at Capistrano Winery, restaurant staff was ramping up for the dinner rush on Tuesday evening—a normal occurrence for the popular wine spot, as it was membership night.

At Capistrano Winery on Tuesday, June 15, Curtis Peterson (far right) enjoys some wine and charcuterie with parents Donna and Kevin Peterson. Photo: Shawn Raymundo

Manager Zach Musselman explained that even though the restrictions are lifted, giving restaurant management more space to operate inside, they’re unlikely to increase capacity quite yet, choosing instead to prioritize seating on the outdoor patio.

“The outside patio has just been an awesome addition for us that it’s really allowed us to create a more relaxed atmosphere inside,” he said. “So, actually, even going back to full capacity, I don’t really see us adding more tables inside just because our location here has always been so small, and prior to this, everything was just really crammed in there.”

With most restrictions lifted, Musselman said he’s looking forward to the day when he and his staff no longer have to wear face masks during their shifts and have normal human interactions again.

Newsom on Monday, June 14, said the state will be consistent with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, allowing fully vaccinated staff to work without masks.  

Expressing elation over reopening, Musselman said, “We’re back open in San Clemente, business is good, and we’ve got space for everybody to come have some awesome local wine.”

SR_1Shawn Raymundo
Shawn Raymundo is the city editor for the San Clemente Times. He graduated from Arizona State University with a bachelor’s degree in Global Studies. Before joining Picket Fence Media, he worked as the government accountability reporter for the Pacific Daily News in the U.S. territory of Guam. Follow him on Twitter @ShawnzyTsunami and follow San Clemente Times @SCTimesNews.

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