Berkeley tightens mask rules but says people can ‘socialize in stable groups outside their households’

Groups of up to 12 people must collectively agree to limit their social activities to only each other for at least three weeks.

Shoppers in March wearing gloves and masks at the Berkeley farmers market on Center Street. Photo: Pete Rosos

Berkeley health officials both tightened and relaxed the city’s health guidelines today, ordering people to carry face masks anytime they go outside and to put them on whenever they come within 30 feet of someone outside their household.

But a separate, second order allows people to socialize outside “in stable groups outside their households,” employ house cleaners and dog walkers and send their kids to childcare or summer camp.

The new rules go into effect Monday, June 8.

“These paired orders reflect the fact that the data around cases and hospitalizations allow these further activities,” reads the order. “At the same time, this shift allowing more people to do more activities requires greater urgency for people to take protective actions as the virus will more easily spread with increased movement.”


The order explains in depth what it means about “social bubbles”:

  • The new order permits small outdoor gatherings between people who have collectively agreed to limit their social activities to only each other for at least three weeks — a “social bubble.”
  • Social bubbles may include up to 12 people, including children, and must remain stable for at least three weeks. During this period, adults in the bubble may only socialize in-person outdoors with other members.
  • All members of a single household must be part of the same bubble. A child in shared custody can be in a household bubble for each parent or guardian. In addition to their household bubble, children may be part of no more than one other stable group over at least three weeks that primarily includes other children — either in a childcare setting or in a youth extracurricular activity, such as a sports team, club or summer camp.
  • Members of a social bubble may gather together outdoors in public or private settings. During gatherings, everyone over 12 years old should still wear a face covering.
  • After three weeks, if there is no concern about sickness, members can form a new bubble with different people to exclusively socialize with outdoors for the next three weeks.
  • If anyone in the social bubble is concerned about being sick, they should avoid socialization. If they are concerned about COVID-19 sickness, they should follow City and CDC recommendations to contact their doctor, stay home and avoid spreading illness in their own household. If anyone in the social bubble has COVID-19, everyone in the group should quarantine themselves and contact their health care providers.

Other aspects of the order allow:

  • Childcare for all: childcare and camps are open to children of all caretakers. They are no longer restricted to individuals working in specific industries. Childcare services and camps must still comply with previously announced rules regarding limited group sizes and social distancing.
  • Curbside library services: Public libraries may now offer curbside pickup for books and other materials. Berkeley Public Library anticipates opening up for curbside pickup by the end of the month.
  • Social bubbles: stable groups of up to 12 people who do not live together may socialize outdoors.
  • Limited services which do not generally require close customer contact, including residential house cleaners, dog walkers, and pet grooming.
  • Educational institutional can engage in career internships and pathways.

When people go outdoors, they must carry a face covering and put it on when they come within 30 feet of someone outside their household, according to the order. “The 30-foot requirement — roughly the length of a row of three small cars — is intended to allow for adequate time to put on your face covering before others come within 6 feet,” reads the order. It applies while walking or exercising outdoors .

Exceptions are made for children, people with a disability or medical condition that prevents them from wearing a face covering, or others for whom face coverings would pose a health or safety risk.


Berkeley and the rest of the Bay Area first issued a shelter-in-place order on March 16 to go into effect the next day. Since then the counties have gradually eased some restrictions, allowing construction to resume, deliveries to be made, curbside pick up from retail and food stores, among other rules.

Frances Dinkelspiel is co-founder and executive editor of Berkeleyside. Email: frances@berkeleyside.com.