U.S.|Newsom marks California’s reopening with a lottery, a Hollywood robot and no mask.
With crowds at the Disneyland entrance, traffic jams on the Los Angeles freeways and triple-digit heat from Sacramento to the San Fernando Valley, California’s governor celebrated the reopening of the state’s economy on Tuesday, raffling off 10 prizes of $1.5 million each to people who had been vaccinated against Covid-19.
“We are here today, June 15, to turn the page,” said Gov. Gavin Newsom, hosting the event from Universal Studios Hollywood with an assortment of Minions from the “Despicable Me” movie franchise and the “Transformers” robot hero Optimus Prime.
Speaking without a face covering, the governor said it was time “to move beyond capacity limits, to move beyond these color codings, move beyond social distancing and physical distancing, and — yes, as you saw me walk up to the stage — to move beyond mask coverings.”
The nation’s most populous state officially ended most of its coronavirus health restrictions just after midnight, lifting gathering limits on bars and restaurants, and largely dropping face-mask requirements for vaccinated people.
California has been in better shape economically than most states, although its tourism sector “really had the sledgehammer taken to it,” Mr. Newsom had noted on Monday. The state’s unemployment rate remains about 4 percentage points higher than before the crisis and higher than the national average, largely because of layoffs at restaurants, hotels and tourist attractions.
Spending on California tourism fell 55 percent last year. Half of the industry’s work force — some 600,000 employees — lost their jobs in the first month after the pandemic hit.
But overall, California’s economy has emerged from the pandemic with preternatural strength. The state budget is running a record surplus, largely because so many tech start-ups went public and so many white-collar employees were able to continue to work remotely. Mr. Newsom is preparing to issue his second round of statewide stimulus checks, this time including taxpayers earning less than $75,000 annually.
And tourist attractions, such as the Universal Studios theme park, are bracing for a rebound. Disneyland, which had reopened to in-state visitors before this week, was jammed on Tuesday as the park expanded its rules to welcome out-of-staters and announced its fireworks shows would return in July.
Jerry Nickelsburg, an adjunct professor of economics at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the director of an economic outlook called the U.C.L.A. Anderson Forecast, said that the state’s relative economic health appeared to be linked to its public health measures. He added that the data supported the governor’s repeated claims that California had economically outperformed Texas and Florida, both of which were largely open throughout the pandemic.
“California was one of the most rapidly growing states in the last expansion, and all the factors that led to that still exist,” Mr. Nickelsburg said.
What has been good for the state has been good for Mr. Newsom, who is facing a recall campaign against him. But his approval ratings have improved as the pandemic has receded, and his fellow Democrats, who control the Legislature, now are weighing whether to expedite the anticipated fall election so that he can capitalize on post-pandemic good will.
And Mr. Newsom has been ebullient in recent weeks as he has barnstormed the state, giving away $50,000 vaccine lottery prizes in the run-up to this week’s grand prize drawings.
“Today is a day to reconnect — to give people hugs, to remind them we’re not out of the woods yet, to remind them we’re all in this together,” the governor said on Tuesday.
“Protect the planet, protect each other,” Optimus Prime added. “Autobots, roll out.”