Berkeley can immediately resume social bubbles, outdoor dining and haircuts as it returns to a purple tier assessment. The move follows Gov. Gavin Newsom’s announcement today that the entire state is released from restrictive shelter-in-place rules enforced in December to stem a COVID-19 surge.

The news comes almost two months after Bay Area counties decided to preemptively enforce Newsom’s shelter-in-place order based on ICU capacities hitting 15%. The Bay Area and the majority of the state is now back in purple tier, which means the virus is “widespread” in these communities.

Counties will now return to tier assessments based on individual case data, as opposed to following a region-based ICU model, though much of the Bay Area has acted in tandem during the pandemic. On Monday morning, Alameda County announced that the Bay Area region had met the criteria to exit the regional stay-at-home order “due to encouraging long-term projections for ICU bed availability.”

Alameda County currently has 30% ICU capacity, and the Bay Area region is at 24.3%. The state guidance is based on projections for the next month and local ICU capacities are projected to improve further in that time. If they worsen regionally, the Bay Area could return to the shelter-in-place orders.

City spokesperson Matthai Chakko said Berkeley will not be imposing any additional restrictions on activities or businesses allowed under the purple tier. Here’s what that means:

  • Social bubbles between three households, outside only
  • Outdoor dining can reopen
  • Grocery stores can increase their capacity from 35% to 50%
  • Haircuts and personal services can resume indoors
  • Retail increased from 20% capacity to 25%
  • There will be no changes to school openings until Alameda County hits the red tier, but schools that have already opened can remain open.

As of Monday afternoon, Alameda County has not yet updated its COVID-19 business reopening page, but its latest health order aligns with the state and doesn’t pose additional restrictions. Berkeley has its own health department, but stricter guidelines in Alameda County due to state orders would still impact the city.

The change may prompt some pushback as the Bay Area and surrounding regions are still recovering from a wave of ballooning cases and deaths. Between December and the end of January, deaths in Berkeley jumped from 9 to 26. During the same time period, Berkeley saw more cases than it had recorded in the previous 10 months since the beginning of the pandemic in March.

The COVID-19 vaccine roll-out began during the winter surge and is ongoing in Berkeley. The city received 2,500 additional doses in the last week and is currently prioritizing healthcare workers and residents over the age of 75.

“We’re still in an absolutely critical phase,” Chakko said, explaining that the city and region are no longer “hurtling” toward 0% ICU capacity and overflowing hospitals, as has been seen in Los Angeles, but cases and deaths are higher than ever before. Residents should  weigh the risks of choosing their activities, continue to social distance, mask up and stay at home whenever possible, he added.

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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...