Indoor dining closed again in Berkeley, Alameda County due to COVID-19 surge

After three short weeks, indoor dining is once again closed in Alameda County as the state grapples with a surge of COVID-19 cases and the county and neighboring regions return to the most restrictive stage of state reopening guidelines.

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Monday that 40 counties, including Alameda County, would be placed in the purple tier as a cautionary measure due to rapidly increasing COVID-19 numbers statewide.

This meant two steps backward from the orange tier for the region, which had allowed restaurants to resume indoor dining at 25% capacity on Oct. 23, after dining rooms had been closed since mid-March. Under the updated guidelines, restaurants and bars that serve food will still be able to offer takeout, delivery and outdoor service.

Berkeley’s health officer released a new health order in line with the county’s guidance on Tuesday afternoon. Starting Wednesday, indoor operations will cease at restaurants, museums, galleries, movie theaters, gyms, places of worship and pools. The order also contains an update on what businesses are currently open, and their capacity limits.

Other services that the city reopened indoors in September while Berkeley was in the purple and red tiers, like hair and nail salons, will remain open, as well as small cohort groups at Berkeley schools. The city and the county health officers could decide to once again be stricter than state guidelines if they choose.

While Berkeley’s case rates have remained lower than the county and state, city officials said Tuesday that over 10% of the city’s total cases since the start of the pandemic were reported in the last two weeks. The current positivity rate locally is 1.06% — climbing from past weeks — with 17 new cases reported on Monday. Previous peaks were 20 cases on July 2 and 18 on Sept. 20.

A study from Stanford University published Nov. 10 points to indoor gatherings and unmasked, indoor dining, specifically, as some of the riskiest activities driving COVID-19 spread, and local health officials who preemptively shut down indoor dining last week have cited the report.

“With cases surging, we face a critical threat to our community, region and state as a whole,” Berkeley Health Officer Lisa Hernandez said in a statement, reiterating the importance of wearing masks, social distancing, hand washing and avoiding gatherings. “These state restrictions limit some high-risk environments for spread. But our own actions have a huge impact.”

outdoor dining arrangement with tents, string lights and heat lamps as an alternative to indoor dining in berkeley during covid-19
Izza’s outdoor dining facility set up along the driveway leading to the back of the restaurant on Oct. 30. As chillier months approach and indoor dining is once again shut down in Berkeley, restaurant patrons will have to rely on heat lamps and coats to dine out comfortably. Photo: Pete Rosos