Berkeley will not join rest of Alameda County in reinstating mask mandate

The city’s public health officer has opted not to reinstate the requirement, citing data showing COVID cases in decline locally.

Pegasus Books continued to require customers to mask up after Berkeley dropped its face covering requirement in February. Credit: Nico Savidge

Alameda County officials are reinstating a public health order requiring people to wear face masks in most indoor settings starting Friday — but the mandate won’t apply in Berkeley.

That’s because the city’s separate public health department has opted not to join the rest of the county in imposing a mask requirement, citing data showing COVID transmission in decline locally.

Berkeley’s seven-day average of new coronavirus cases hit a high of 65.2 per 100,000 residents on May 16, according to the city’s data dashboard, and has fallen since then to 38.4 on Thursday. City spokesman Matthai Chakko said health officials continue to strongly recommend that people wear masks in public indoor settings.

“While we support other health officers’ decisions to use whatever tools are appropriate for their jurisdictions,” Chakko said, “the data in Berkeley does not currently warrant a health order, according to Health Officer Dr. Lisa B. Hernandez.”

The decision means that while people will be required to mask up in grocery stores, offices or gyms in Oakland and Albany, they won’t have to do so in Berkeley. Businesses can impose their own face mask requirements.

Berkeley Unified School District brought its face covering requirement back last month, and AC Transit announced late Thursday that it will require riders to wear masks starting Friday.

Alameda County is the first in the Bay Area to reimpose a mask mandate amid a surge of cases driven by highly contagious coronavirus sub-variants, after health officers throughout the region lifted the requirements in mid-February as a winter wave receded.

Officials said Thursday that case rates throughout Alameda County, which are increasingly undercounted as more people use at-home coronavirus tests, have exceeded the wave caused by the Delta variant last summer. The number of people hospitalized with COVID has “rapidly increased in recent days,” they said.

“Rising COVID cases in Alameda County are now leading to more people being hospitalized and today’s action reflects the seriousness of the moment,” Alameda County Health Officer Dr. Nicholas Moss said in a statement. “We cannot ignore the data, and we can’t predict when this wave may end. Putting our masks back on gives us the best opportunity to limit the impact of a prolonged wave on our communities.”

Nico Savidge is Berkeleyside's senior reporter covering city hall. Email: nico@berkeleyside.org. Twitter: NSavidge.