When will California enter Phase 4 of reopening? Don't hold your breath, experts warn

Three experts weigh in on when we can expect California to move into the next stage of reopening amid the coronavirus pandemic.

ByAlix Martichoux KGO logo
Wednesday, July 8, 2020
When will CA enter Phase 4? Experts weigh in
Almost all of California has moved into Phase 3 of reopening, from restaurants to movie theaters. When will Gov. Gavin Newsom allow more businesses to reopen? We asked three experts to predict when we'll see Phase 4 and a coronavirus vaccine.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Gov. Gavin Newsom has released guidelines for almost every type of business in California to reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic, from restaurants to movie theaters to miniature golf. And before last week's surge rewound the clock on reopening a bit, pretty much the whole state had moved far into Phase 3 of reopening.

In fact, all that's left to reopen are the businesses in Phase 4: concerts, festivals, conventions and sports with a live audience. What needs to happen before California moves into the next stage of reopening?

We asked three experts when we can expect to enter Phase 4. Here's what they said.

When will California be able to enter the next phase of reopening, dubbed "Stage 4" by the state?

All three medical experts we asked put it plain and simple: You shouldn't expect to attend a concert or a big festival until we have a coronavirus vaccine.

"It's one thing if we want to open up the Redding Convention Center," said Dr. George Rutherford, who specializes in epidemiology at UCSF. "If we're talking about the Orange County Convention center across from Disneyland, that's another kettle of fish.

"Frankly, if I were going to bet when we'll have everything back to the way it was, it's going to be after we have a vaccine," he said.

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"I think it's hard to envision a scenario where it's prudent to get together in big crowds either prior to a vaccine or with such effective therapy where if a high-risk person got sick, we wouldn't be worrying very much that they were going to die," said Dr. Bob Wachter, the chair of UCSF's medicine department. "I think a vaccine will probably come before the therapies are that good."

Rutherford agreed a vaccine is more likely than the development of a "miracle drug."

"I'd also love to see proof of a robust contact tracing system prior to a Phase 4 reopening," added ABC7 News contributor Dr. Alok Patel. "Contact tracing is our best bet at preventing future outbreaks until we get a vaccine."

How long will it take to get a vaccine made and distributed?

So if it's going to take the invention and distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine to enter Phase 4 of reopening, when can we expect that to happen?

"We're hearing different time estimates because nobody really knows," said Wachter.

That being said, just about everything is going right so far in developing a vaccine. Early tests show vaccine candidates are producing antibodies, people don't seem to be getting reinfected and vaccines injected into animals appear to protect them for getting the virus.

What will it take to get a COVID-19 vaccine and how will it be made?

The novel coronavirus is likely going to be with us until a vaccine is developed. What does it take to create a COVID-19 vaccine?

"I think the betting odds would be there's a vaccine that works and is ready for distribution in about 12 to 14 months," he said.

Dr. Anthony Fauci is hoping to cut that estimated timeline in half; the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases is hopeful we'll have vaccine doses manufactured and ready to go by early 2021.

Still, even if there is a vaccine being manufactured and distributed by Jan. 1, it will still be rolled out in phases. Elderly people, nursing home workers, those with chronic conditions and health care workers will likely be prioritized before the general population gets access.

"The logistics of vaccinating 40 million people in California are pretty overwhelming. There are going to have to be big mass vaccination campaigns, lots of distribution, lots of record keeping," said Rutherford. "But it's the sort of thing I think we're capable of doing.