So long, social distancing: What ‘back to normal’ day was like in Berkeley

With the mask mandate lifted, businesses are weighing employee and customer safety in deciding new rules.

Peet's Coffee on Solano no longer requires customers to wear a face mask if they have been vaccinated, as of June 15, 2021. Credit: Kelly Sullivan
Peet’s Coffee on Solano no longer requires customers to wear a face mask if they have been vaccinated, as of June 15, 2021. Credit: Kelly Sullivan

As the morning of June 15 rolled around — the much anticipated “economy reopening” date due to COVID-19 waning in California — businesses in Berkeley were still figuring out what a full relaxation of rules and the lifting of the mask mandate meant to them.

COVID-19 numbers have dropped to all-time-lows throughout California and Alameda County and almost two-thirds of the local population are now fully vaccinated against the virus that upended the last year by shuttering businesses, closing schools and keeping friends and families isolated from one another.

See our tweets about Berkeley’s reopening throughout the day

The new rules mean masks don’t have to be worn in several indoor locations, like retail shops and restaurants, and several health protocols like capacity limits and social distancing no longer exist. Chains like Peet’s, Safeway and Trader Joe’s announced this week that face coverings are no longer required for vaccinated customers (who are also free of virus symptoms), and others like Ike’s Sandwiches and Sliver Pizzeria plan to follow suit with an honor system for those who say they got their shot.

A Trader Joe's manager scrapes the 6-foot distance stickers off the floor on June 15, 2021. Credit: Kelly Sullivan
A Trader Joe’s manager scrapes the 6-foot distance stickers off the floor on June 15, 2021, when the state lifted social distancing requirements and most of the mask mandate. Credit: Kelly Sullivan

Gov. Gavin Newsom has previewed plans for a mobile vaccine card for certain businesses and events, but a majority of small shops and restaurants — which have the authority to make their own restrictions — are relying on trust to determine whether people are vaccinated.

“It would be ridiculous, can you imagine? Here’s your hotdog — show me your papers,” described Simone Arpaio at Almare Gelato, whose employees are vaccinated, and currently wearing masks, but are now allowing vaccinated customers to come in without them.

The vast majority of employees at Berkeley businesses are still masking up, with the workplace mask mandate still in place for another two days until Thursday. When it comes to customers, some are also choosing a more cautious approach.

At Oasis Grill, one customer walked up to the cashier on Monday afternoon without a mask on. He was frustrated when asked to put on a face covering, saying, “It’s over! I don’t need it anymore.” The cashier later told Berkeleyside that he thought the mandate expired next month, but even for the time being, he feels safer to be masked up.

Masks will still be required on buses and public transportation, in addition to hospitals, long-term care facilities, homeless shelters and indoor at K-12 schools, childcare and other youth settings. Chere, who declined to give her last name, has worked at AC Transit for nine years, and said she encountered a couple incidents each day over the last year of people not wanting to wear their masks.

California Reopening in Berkeley
Chere, a driver with AC Transit, hopes people will still wear their masks while the virus continues to circulate in the state. Credit: Supriya Yelimeli

“I don’t feel safe (without masks) because the virus isn’t totally under control yet, new cases are still coming out,” said Chere, who has been berated by riders on her route who didn’t want to wear face coverings, even though they’re readily available on buses along with hand sanitizer.

Public transportation is also important to many businesses and employees who are now bracing themselves for an increase in customers, but still do not have access to late-night bus routes and BART lines that were cut and shortened during the pandemic. Arpaio said his gelato shop used to stay open until midnight, but some of his employees now have no other option besides leaving at 9 p.m. if they want to get home.

Like restaurants and other private businesses, workers in office spaces will be allowed to make their own decisions about mask use after Thursday. That goes for co-working spaces like WeWork, which will no longer be enforcing mask rules at individual offices within its building following that date.

See more photos of what a “back to normal” day was like in Berkeley, and scenes from across the city as Berkeleyans adjust to the new rules.

Romello Urbi and Ruby Lynn Urbi at Eclipxe Salon on June 15, 2021. They still require staff to wear masks, but customers are allowed to be unmasked with proof of vaccination. Credit: Kelly Sullivan
Romello Urbi and Ruby Lynn Urbi at Eclipxe Salon on June 15, 2021. They still require staff to wear masks, but customers are allowed to be unmasked with proof of vaccination. Credit: Kelly Sullivan
California Reopening in Berkeley
A mixture of people chose to wear masks, and not wear them, at the South Berkeley Farmer’s Market on June 15, 2021. The market now allows vendors to make their own choice regarding face coverings. Credit: Supriya Yelimeli
Vikas Aggarwal, owner of the Good 2 Go convenience store on Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. is still requiring masks for staff at least through the end of the month, but customers are on the honor system if they come in unmasked. Credit: Kelly Sullivan
Vikas Aggarwal, owner of the Good 2 Go convenience store on Martin Luther King Jr. Way is still requiring masks for staff at least through the end of the month, but customers are on the honor system if they come in unmasked. Credit: Kelly Sullivan
Quiandra Watson takes the order of Derrick Walker at Gold Leaf Cafe on June 15, 2021. Credit: Kelly Sullivan
Quiandra Watson takes the order of Derrick Walker at Gold Leaf Cafe on Martin Luther King Jr. Way on June 15, 2021. Credit: Kelly Sullivan
California Reopening in Berkeley
Jesse James and their team, who sell flowers and veggies at the South Berkeley farmers market, are vaccinated and decided to go maskless today after discussing it, but “if you’re wearing a mask, I support you,” James emphasized. Credit: Supriya Yelimeli
Aidan Nabavi climbs without a mask for the first time at West Berkeley’s Berkeley Ironworks, which made masks optional today for people are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. They will be using an honor system to determine who is vaccinated. “This might be a placebo effect, but I feel like I’m breathing in more air without the mask on so I feel like I’m climbing better.” Credit: Ally Markovich
Supriya Yelimeli is Berkeleyside's homelessness and housing reporter. Email: supriya@berkeleyside.org. Twitter: SupriyaYelimeli. Phone: 510-585-8315.