Ready or not, California is open once more.

Fifteen months after an unprecedented government-ordered hibernation, we are all emerging from our long COVID-19 winter. What awaits us?

Well, to a large degree that depends on what you want to do. On Tuesday, the state of California lifted its capacity restrictions on private businesses. Gone, too, are physical distancing requirements. That means you are free to belly up to a bar owned by a fearless bar owner and share a bowl of peanuts with the stranger beside you. You can wander maskless around the mall — assuming the private mall owner allows it — and you no longer have to wait in line at Lululemon just to get in to buy those stretchy pants that are suddenly office attire. Speaking of which, your employer may order you back to the office.

While it may sound like a simple grand opening, there are many complications. For one thing, public health officials in individual counties are free to make their own, more restrictive, rules. You still must mask up on public transportation, indoors in public schools and in health care settings. Those who are unvaccinated are asked to “self-attest” that they are unprotected and continue to wear their masks. And private businesses are free to continue with their own mask rules.

But the signs are positive and virtually everywhere. Last week, the Half Moon Bay Beautification Committee reversed itself to say it would hold its Ol’-Fashioned Fourth of July Parade after all. It is likely the beginning of a wave. Expect large, public, outdoor gatherings to resume by this fall.

That doesn’t mean the end of the nightmare that, at this writing, has claimed more than 63,000 Californians and 600,000 Americans.There were more than 100 deaths across the country due to the disease last week alone. And the virus is still spreading virtually unchecked in many parts of the world. While vaccines are wildly successful and those who get them are far safer than unvaccinated people, the future is unknown. There could yet be deadly variants. We have yet to learn if or when we might need booster shots. This has been a humbling event on a worldwide scale.

As we move forward, let’s continue to value public health. Let’s keep each other’s health in mind. Let’s return to a new normal that is informed by the deadly lessons we have learned.

— Clay Lambert

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