Berkeley may see looser health orders with Alameda County moving into ‘red’ COVID-19 tier

Alameda County moved into a less restrictive tier of the state’s COVID-19 reopening guidelines on Tuesday, Sept. 22, meaning Berkeley residents can expect new health orders in the coming weeks that may allow additional indoor activities like dining.

The state updates its reopening portal every Tuesday, and Alameda County and Berkeley are now eligible to reopen nail salons, indoor restaurants at 25% capacity (or 100 people, whichever is less) and consider re-opening schools. Conditions will have to remain stable for at least two weeks, however, for local health officers to make significant changes to existing health orders.

The red tier amounts to “substantial” COVID-19 risk in a given county, with four to seven daily new cases per 100,000 residents and between 5-8% of tests coming back positive.

Berkeley’s numbers are well below this threshold, at 1.65% positive cases, but, as city leaders have reiterated throughout the pandemic, Berkeley and Alameda County are not an island, and some areas within the county, like East Oakland, are much more impacted. Neighboring counties like Contra Costa, Sonoma and Monterey counties are also still in the purple, “widespread tier.”

Berkeley Health Officer Dr. Lisa Hernandez said during a virtual town hall on Tuesday that the city, which is among few in the state to have its own health officer, will take the next two weeks to determine what changes are safe.

The city will also be bound by rules set by Alameda County, which are allowed to be more restrictive than the state’s allowance. For example, they’ve maintained that schools will not re-open until additional local conditions (beyond the state’s criteria for in-person learning) allow for a safe return to campuses.

Mayor Jesse Arreguin and Hernandez outlined the risks of participating in gathering and activities — if and when they are allowed — and emphasized the ongoing risks of COVID-19, especially as the United States now grapples with over 200,000 deaths from the virus.

Updated daily statistics are available in Berkeleyside’s by-the-numbers data tracker.