Berkeley building under construction. Photo: Alan Tobey

As promised, Berkeley and Bay Area health officials have extended their shelter-in-place order until early May, cracking down on construction and further restricting recreational areas.

“At its core, it’s really simple. We need everybody to stay home except for essential activities,” said city of Berkeley spokesman Matthai Chakko.

The new order goes into effect at 11:59 p.m. Tuesday and lasts until May 3. The initial March 16 order was set to expire April 7, but from the beginning officials warned that a longer shutdown might be required to slow the spread of COVID-19. On Monday, six county health departments as well as Berkeley — which operates independently from Alameda County — announced that the order would indeed be extended. The state of California has also issued an indefinite shelter-in-place order.

“There has been a significant increase in the number of positive cases, hospitalization and deaths from COVID-19, which is beginning to strain healthcare resources,” said a joint press release issued Tuesday by the health departments.

There are currently 19 lab-confirmed coronavirus cases in Berkeley, and 294 in Alameda County, but testing for the disease has been very limited.

Like the previous version, the shelter-in-place extension prohibits anyone from leaving the house for work or activities that are deemed non-essential.

Grocery and hardware stores can stay open, as can restaurants providing take-out or delivery service only. Health care workers and other essential employees are still exempt. Outdoor activity is still permitted as long as social distancing guidelines (staying at least 6 feet away from people outside of your household) are adhered to.

The order newly prohibits outdoor recreational facilities like picnic areas, playgrounds and basketball courts, but many of those areas have already been closed in Berkeley.

The order expands the list of businesses considered “essential” and thus exempt from the rules, including “residential transaction” workers like Realtors and movers. However, all essential businesses have to come up with a “social distancing protocol” and shave down their operations to only the essential aspects and essential workers. The order also permits funeral homes and cemeteries to continue their operations, but says funerals themselves can only include 10 people or fewer.

The biggest changes pertain to rules around construction. While housing-related construction was permitted under the first order, the extension prohibits most residential and commercial building. Health care facilities and shelters, as well as development containing at least 10% affordable units, can still be built.

Bay Area health officers already ordered schools to stay shut (except to provide “distance learning”) until May 1, so the extension ensures parents and guardians will be home with their kids in April. But for many local employees the extension means another month or so without wages, and for everyone it means more time accommodating major interference with plans and obligations.

“Lives do depend on this,” Chakko said. “The overwhelming number of people are complying and people do see the importance and are taking action to make our community safer. A significant threat is looming and there is urgency for us to take action on an even greater scale.”

Emilie Raguso contributed reporting.

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Natalie Orenstein reports on housing and homelessness for The Oaklandside. Natalie was a Berkeleyside staff reporter from early 2017 to May 2020. She had previously contributed to the site since 2012,...