November 17 2020

As Cases Surge, State Restricts Indoor Activities in Berkeley and Throughout State 

State officials, noting a surge in COVID-19 cases locally, moved Berkeley and the rest of Alameda County into the more restrictive tier that requires certain businesses to only operate outdoors.

The new restrictions reflect some truths about the virus that can be used by everyone: half of all COVID-19 cases are believed to be unknowingly spread by those who feel fine; face coverings are powerful; and the virus more easily spreads indoors.

That also means we each hold tools to slow the spread.

  • Everyone should always do the essentials: 
    • stay home when sick 
    • wear face coverings 
    • wash hands frequently
    • keep physical distance with those not in your household and 
    • get a flu vaccine.
  • When leaving the safety of home, use three questions to help assess and choose lower risk activities: Where will you go? Who will attend? What will happen?
  • Budget your risk by being selective about what activities you choose to do and forgo others.

These questions should guide you to limit activities within a small, stable group of no more than 20 people that meets outdoors and uses both face coverings and distance when with 3 or fewer households.

These questions should also help you avoid confined spaces, crowds and close contact with those outside your household.

"California is experiencing the fastest increase in cases we have seen yet - faster than what we experienced at the outset of the pandemic or even this summer," Governor Gavin Newsom said in a statement that placed 41 of the state's 58 counties in the most restrictive, "Purple" tier. "The spread of COVID-19, if left unchecked, could quickly overwhelm our health care system and lead to catastrophic outcomes."

Restricting indoor activities that mix multiple households

The state decision, which is reflected in a new City of Berkeley Health Order effective Nov. 18, prohibits certain indoor activities while allowing others to operate with capacity limits and other restrictions.

The following businesses must only operate outdoors: restaurants, wineries, museums, galleries, botanical gardens, movie theaters, family entertainment centers, exhibition spaces, gyms, fitness centers, dance studios, yoga centers, churches, swimming pools.

State law will allow certain industries to remain open indoors, but limited to 25 percent capacity: retail stores, shopping centers, strip malls.

Grocery stores and convenience stores can open at 50 percent capacity. 

Many businesses that operate indoors using restrictions - from nail salons to barbers - will remain open, but will need to continue to use the City's Health Order and state guidance, such as one for personal care services. See what's open or closed in Berkeley.

All TK-12 schools were given the option to open in Berkeley. The state decision means that schools currently teaching students in person may continue to do so. Effective November 18, those schools that have not yet opened will not be allowed to start doing so except for state-defined "cohorts,"  -- small-group, in-person services in controlled, supervised, and indoor environments.

Without action, surge in cases forebodes much worse

The rate of growth is a critical metric for COVID-19, which spreads quickly unless people improve behaviors or restrictions are imposed. In the nation, state and even locally, the data shows a dramatic rise.

Cases statewide doubled in the last ten days. In addition, from November 1-7, cases increased by 51.3 percent over the previous seven-day period. That's the fastest growth since the pandemic began, Newsom said. 

In Berkeley, the new case rate per 100,000 people over 7 days in late October was 0.7 cases. Last week, it reached 5.6 cases per 100,000. The state as a whole on Nov. 17 was at 16.5 new cases per 100,000.   Of Berkeley's 916 cases since the start of the pandemic, 111 were reported in the last two weeks. One million of the nation's 11 million cases were reported in the last week.

"With cases surging, we face a critical threat to our community, region and state as a whole," said Dr. Lisa B. Hernandez, Berkeley's Health Officer. "These state restrictions limit some high-risk environments for spread. But our own actions have a huge impact."

"Each of us must take immediate steps," said Hernandez. "To drive down infection rates now, we all must limit gatherings, wear face coverings, use physical distancing, wash hands frequently and stay home when sick."