Outdoor dining is allowed again in Berkeley and Alameda County as of this morning, five days after it was banned in a surprise decision under state guidance.

California Department of Public Health issued the ban and said restaurants could only serve takeout and offer delivery, as Alameda County had not been applied for a variance to allow for sit-down dining. But both Alameda County and Berkeley were able to secure a state variance today that allows them to make some of their own rules around reopening.

Restaurants in Alameda County and Berkeley were first allowed to operate outdoors June 19, and many diners were excited to partake after months of take-out only. Restaurant owners were blindsided by the abrupt reversal. Over the weekend, several parklets and outside seating arrangements were deserted, but some businesses continued to operate outdoors.

Alameda County currently has a 4.7% positive rate of COVID-19 cases, higher than Berkeley’s 1.8%, and is on a state watchlist for monitoring. Berkeley has an independent health department led by Dr. Lisa Hernandez, who filed an attestation for the change, and it will no longer be bound to the state’s reopening.

It will still have to follow rules set by Alameda County, which now prohibits indoor religious services and indoor malls, in addition to allowing some reopenings. Hernandez emphasized the present threat of COVID-19 in a press release from today, and asked all residents to continue wearing their masks, practice social distancing and only engage in gatherings within their social bubbles.

“The virus threatens our community in an unprecedented way,” Hernandez said. “Every person has to take these actions. Our collective will ultimately holds the power to limit the virus’ spread.”

Iyasare’s new parklet on Fourth Street was empty over the weekend, when Alameda County briefly banned outdoor dining. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Supriya Yelimeli is a housing and homelessness reporter for Berkeleyside and joined the staff in May 2020 after contributing reporting since 2018 as a freelance writer. Yelimeli grew up in Fremont and...