LOS ANGELES — Californians headed to campgrounds, beaches and restaurants over the long holiday weekend as the state prepared to shed some of its coronavirus rules.
Southern California beaches were busy with families barbecuing and children playing in the sand and surf. Business owners said they were scrambling to hire workers to keep up with the stream of customers eager to get out since virus cases have fallen and vaccinations have risen.
"It feels very, very close to normal," Bob Alfera, a resident of seaside Santa Monica, told KCBS-TV.
The surge in travel and recreation comes as California prepares to relax social distancing and masking rules in two weeks as long as coronavirus cases remain low.
California was the first U.S. state to impose a statewide shutdown when the virus emerged in March 2020 and the nation's epicenter for the disease in early 2021.
But the state has reported a significant turnaround. In recent weeks, newly reported infections in California have fallen below 1,000 on some days and the state's positivity rate has been 1%.
The state is now expected to end its tier system for business operations on June 15. Already, about 90% of California's population is in the lower two of the state's four tiers guiding business activities.
Large-scale indoor events will have vaccination or negative test requirements until at least October.
The change in pandemic-related rules comes as Californians gear up for summertime fun.
At Los Angeles International Airport, travel reached a 2021 record on Friday with more than 78,000 passengers passing through Transportation Security Administration checkpoints, airport officials said. Daily passenger traffic is still about half of what it was two years ago but has been steadily increasing, the Los Angeles Times reported.
"It's been a long year, and to see people coming back to the airport is a great change of pace," said Heath Montgomery, an airport spokesperson.
Just in time for Memorial Day, a local veterans' group that met weekly until the pandemic halted in-person gatherings finally got a long-awaited reunion.
Members got together in West Hills for coffee and donuts and to catch up on the year gone by, Ed Reynolds, a veteran with Wings over Wendy's, told KTLA television.
"It's good to see these faces again," he said, his voice cracking. "It's sort of emotional."