Ready or not, indoor dining is reopening in Alameda County

Restaurants in Berkeley, Oakland and other Alameda County cities can reopen for indoor dining at limited capacity beginning Monday, Oct. 26, under a new orange tier designation in the state’s COVID-19 reopening guidelines.

The county shifted into the orange tier on Tuesday, and local officials announced that the county (including Berkeley, which has its own health department) will allow restaurants to open up dining rooms at 25% capacity or 100 people (whichever is less), retail stores and malls to expand into 50% capacity and reopen food courts in indoor spaces. Bars and breweries that don’t sell food are still restricted to outdoor seating.

The countywide COVID-19 positivity rate is 1.5%, slightly higher than Berkeley’s 1.3%. Last week, California added a new metric for reopening, the “health equity metric,” which measures the level of positivity in disadvantaged neighborhoods in response to higher rates of COVID-19 transmission in communities with essential workers, low-income, Black, Latino and Pacific Islander residents. Nine Bay Area counties met this metric on Tuesday to advance to less restrictive tiers including Alameda County; its health equity metric currently sits at 3.5%.

Berkeleyside asked restaurants and diners whether they would be ready to return to indoor dining once it was allowed, and received mixed results. While restaurants have suffered drastic losses from being closed or limited to outdoor dining since March, reopening inside would also mean higher labor costs, health risks for workers and challenging logistics.

Berkeley and Alameda County can both be more restrictive than state guidelines if they choose to down the line, but several new activities will soon be permitted.

Playgrounds can shed their “caution” tape this Friday after individual site inspections, indoor theaters and worship services can open at 25% capacity or 100 people and elementary schools will continue to assess their readiness after becoming eligible to reopen on Tuesday.

“COVID-19 remains a threat, so each person will need to evaluate their own risks and assess which activities they would like to prioritize and participate in,” Berkeley’s health officer, Dr. Lisa Hernandez, said in a statement. “Developing good habits and making good choices collectively allow us to advance together.”

outdoor dining parklet outside of Zut!, which can also allow indoor dining soon
Several parklets have been clustered around some of the mainstay eateries on Fourth Street for the outdoor dining services allowed in Berkeley. They can soon reopen indoors at 25% capacity. Photo: Pete Rosos