Berkeley Organic Market and Deli owner Waheed Alsaidi brings a bag of groceries to a customer’s car for pickup, seen here in April. Starting Tuesday, more Berkeley businesses will be able to offer this service. Photo: Pete Rosos

Health officers in Berkeley and across the Bay Area announced a loosening of their shelter-in-place rules Monday, allowing retail shops to reopen for curbside pickup and delivery, and manufacturing and warehouse operations to resume.

Alameda County announced its new rules Monday just before 11:30 a.m., causing some amount of confusion about whether or how these rules apply to Berkeley. Berkeley has crafted its own version of the orders, which go into effect Monday at 11:59 p.m.

People must still make every effort to restrict their activities to what is essential so as to limit the spread of COVID-19, officials say, but they have made adjustments to allow businesses and others to get back to work.

According to Berkeley’s new order, “additional businesses” such as retail shops can now offer curbside or storefront pickup as well as delivery. Initially, those options were allowed only for essential businesses including restaurants, or shops that had existing inventory. The April 29 order expanded home delivery to nonessential businesses.

Under the new order, retail businesses must ensure that employees stay 6 feet apart while they work. Customers are not allowed to enter stores at this time.

Manufacturing work can also begin again as long as employees can stay 6 feet apart. Ditto with logistics and warehousing facilities.

As part of the new rules, businesses must post social distancing rules, as well as a “Site-Specific Protection Plan,” and distribute both to all employees.

Alameda County also relaxed rules for “certain highly regulated vehicle-based gatherings,” but that does not apply in Berkeley. The Alameda County order went into effect Monday at 8 a.m.

Berkeley’s order does not specify an end date, noting that it “will continue to be in effect until it is rescinded, superseded, or amended in writing by the Health Officer.”

Five local indicators

In late April, Bay Area health officers outlined five key indicators they will use to determine how well they are prepared to “contain and treat COVID-19” and gauge when it is safe to relax existing shelter-in-place rules. The state has announced six critical indicators of its own, which were released by Gov. Gavin Newsom in mid-April.

Berkeley has said it is using the Bay Area indicators, not the state’s, as it makes decisions related to COVID-19.

“Please note that where differences between the local Health Officer’s Order and the State’s Order exist, the more restrictive order prevails,” Alameda County said in its statement Monday. “We are flattening the curve, but we must go slow and continue to adhere to the Health Order to continue to slow the spread of COVID-19.”

The first indicator being tracked locally is whether the total number of cases in the community, including hospitalized patients, is flat or has decreased for 14 days. These figures have been relatively flat in Berkeley throughout the outbreak, with an average of about 1 new case per day since Feb. 28 when the first positive case was reported.

As of Monday, there had been 70 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Berkeley and one death. Elsewhere in Alameda County, 2,387 cases and 82 deaths have been reported.

For the second indicator, local jurisdictions are looking at whether there is sufficient hospital capacity, meaning no more than 50% of the patients in regular hospital beds have COVID-19, measured over a rolling seven-day average. For Berkeley, this will be assessed at the county level, staff has said. Unlike many other local jurisdictions, Alameda County does not report hospital capacity online, only patient counts.

The third indicator is whether at least 200 COVID-19 viral detection tests are being conducted per 100,000 residents per day. In Berkeley, that would mean 245 tests per day. In May, Berkeley has reported just 50 tests a day on average. It was not clear as of publication time how that would fulfill the requirements of Indicator 3.

The fourth indicator is described as sufficient case investigation, contact tracing and capacity for isolation and quarantine. The goal is to reach 90% of the positive cases and ensure 90% of that group can safely isolate; and to identify 90% of the contacts of those cases and ensure 90% of that group can safely quarantine. Berkeley has said it is meeting this goal.

The final local indicator requires “at least a 30-day supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) available for all healthcare providers.”

As of last week, Berkeleyside had asked for details about how Berkeley was meeting each of these standards. As of publication time, no information had been provided beyond a general affirmative statement about Indicator 4.

In its April 29 description of the local indicators, jurisdictions promised to “report publicly on our progress on these local Indicators, so that the community can also track our collective progress.” Berkeleyside will continue to seek this information from the city.

Bay Area health officers — in Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties — are also using other factors to guide their decisions about reopening, including “the development of other methods to contain COVID-19, the impact of the staged reopening of various sectors, the level of compliance with social distancing orders and guidance, collective compliance with isolation and quarantine directives for persons who are infected or exposed, and other scientific developments during this rapidly evolving pandemic.”

Since mid-March, Berkeley — which has its own health department — has been working in sync with other Bay Area counties to announce shelter-in-place rules and restrictions. The first order was announced March 16 and was set to last at least through April 7. At the end of March, the health officers said their new order, which relaxed rules around construction, would be extended until May 3.

At the end of April, new rules went into effect with additional relaxation for construction along with more flexibility for some retail and recreation facilities. Those rules were set to last through May, but word began spreading throughout the Bay Area last week that San Francisco, San Mateo and Marin counties would allow curbside pickup for more retail businesses starting Monday.

Also last week, Gov. Newsom reported that multiple counties would be loosening restrictions and moving into “Stage 2” of his shelter-in-place rules. At the state level, Stage 2 allows for more activity related to curbside retail, manufacturing and logistics, office workers, childcare for people other than essential workers; certain services like car washes, pet grooming, and landscaping; as well as “outdoor museums, and open gallery spaces and other public spaces with modifications.”

On Thursday, several city officials, including Mayor Jesse Arreguín, said they plan to bring a proposal to allow outdoor restaurant seating to the Berkeley City Council for a vote in early June.

Stay tuned to Berkeleyside for continuing coverage of COVID-19.

Joint statement from Bay Area health officers

Update, 1:50 p.m. See Monday’s joint statement from the regional health officers. It appears below in full.

Thanks to the steadfast commitment of our residents to stay home, practice social distancing, and follow public health guidance, we have seen sustained progress on several key indicators regarding containment of COVID-19. This has remained true a full incubation period after the reopening of construction, outdoor businesses, and certain outdoor activities on May 4, 2020. Region-wide progress on the COVID-19 Indicators jointly set by Bay Area Health Officers includes:

      • The trend of new cases of COVID-19 has been stable or decreasing, even with increased testing;
      • The number of hospitalized patients with COVID-19 is stable or declining, and hospital capacity is sufficient for both COVID-19 patients and other patients who need hospital care;
      • More COVID-19 tests are being performed in our region each day;
      • Hospitals are reporting improved supply of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), though shortages continue in certain healthcare settings; and
      • There is increased capacity for case investigation and contact tracing.

While much work remains to be done, in light of this progress, we are issuing a new order today that allows retail establishments to offer curbside pick-up, and also allows manufacturing, warehousing, and logistical operations to resume. We are counting on these businesses to consistently follow social distancing protocols and public health guidance to protect their employees and customers as these activities resume. We take this step knowing that COVID-19 continues to pose a very significant risk to our communities, and that continued vigilance is necessary to ensure that we do not see an increase in spread as more activities resume.

As we reopen certain sectors, Bay Area residents are still required by health order to stay home as much as possible, should wear face coverings when they leave home, and follow the precautions that have helped the region make progress to slow the spread of COVID-19. As we move forward, we will continue to be guided by our COVID-19 Indicators and other data related to the spread of COVID-19 in our region.

Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist of the Year...