CA clears Alameda County to move into red tier of reopening system

Photo of people walking on Shattuck
David Rodriguez/File
The Alameda and Solano counties have been approved to move out of the purple tier, the most restrictive tier of California's Blueprint for a Safer Economy, to the red tier, the state's second-most restrictive tier. According to a statement from Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín, Alameda County moving into the red tier should allow the city of Berkeley's public schools to gradually reopen. (Photo taken prior to COVID-19 pandemic.)

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Updated 3/9/2021: This article has been updated with information from the Berkeley Unified School District and UC Berkeley.

On Tuesday, the state of California cleared Alameda County, which includes the city of Berkeley, to move into the red tier of the state’s reopening system.

The California Department of Public Health updated the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy, allowing the Solano and Alameda counties to enter the second-most restrictive category in the system. The two counties will leave the purple tier and join San Francisco, Santa Clara, Napa, Marin and San Mateo counties Wednesday in the red tier.

Additionally, the state announced that as of press time, there has been a 2.2% positivity rate in COVID-19 cases over a two-week period, which is significantly lower compared to the high rate seen over the winter.

According to the blueprint, the red tier allows for indoor dining to resume at 25% capacity and the reopening of indoor activities such as museums, zoos and movie theaters, among others. Indoor fitness businesses and gyms may also reopen up to 10% capacity, and funerals can now be held indoors at 25% capacity.

School districts in the red tier will be allowed to open all elementary schools, in addition to a grade of middle school and a grade of high school, according to the blueprint.

“Today, the State of California has announced that Alameda County, which includes the City of Berkeley, will be moving into the Red Tier,” said Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín in a statement. “The shift into the Red Tier means that Berkeley’s public schools can, and should, reopen safely and successfully.”

Arreguín noted in the statement how the pandemic has physically and psychologically impacted the Berkeley community and advised the community to support the effort in safeguarding the physical and mental health of youth in the city. He added in the statement that BUSD has the authority to reopen schools and encouraged the district to welcome back students, educators and staff into physical classrooms.

In an email sent to the Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, community Monday, Superintendent Brent Stephens said the district expects to be able to offer the option of a five-day schedule of on-campus learning for elementary schools.

The district provided the BUSD community an enrollment form for each elementary school student to choose the on-campus five-day learning model or to continue remote learning for the remainder of the school year, according to Stephens. However, details on the on-campus five-day learning model are yet to be finalized. The deadline to choose one of the enrollment options is Thursday.

Currently, the on-campus five-day learning model will have students attend five full days of school, with the possibility of variations in schedules in grades and sites in order to minimize contact, according to Stephens. Classrooms will be configured to comply with social distancing guidelines, and safety measures will be implemented to mitigate risks.

Students and staff will provide daily health forms, according to Stephens. Individuals who are ill are required to stay home. Staff members are tested for COVID-19 every two weeks, and all staff now have the opportunity to receive a vaccination, Stephens added in the email.

Stephens noted that most staff members have received at least one dose or are scheduled to receive a dose soon. Additionally, a student COVID-19 testing plan is in development. Transportation and after-school programs are in limited availability, but the district hopes “to provide options for families most in need,” according to Stephens.

“Families may of course still choose to keep their students in distance learning for the remainder of the school year. As with all students, there may be a change in teacher, and/or student classmates,” Stephens said in the email to the BUSD community. “The schedule for Distance Learning will be the same.”

This follows California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s recent revision of the Blueprint for a Safer Economy as the state plans to address inequities of COVID-19 vaccine distribution by providing 40% of vaccines to the state’s most impacted and disadvantaged regions.

As of press time, about 1.8 million vaccine doses have been administered. According to Newsom, more than 200,000 state educators have been vaccinated after the state allocated 10% of the vaccine supply for education staff.

“As the vaccine rollout continues, I am committed to prioritizing our vulnerable populations, frontline workers, and educators. As those at risk are increasingly safeguarded from the virus I am confident BUSD can safely and successfully reopen our schools and return to in-person learning,” Arreguín said in the statement. “I look forward to working with BUSD, public health officials, and other support staff to help our students as they continue to learn and grow.”

In an update Tuesday, UC Berkeley announced that the majority of campus operations will remain unchanged, despite the city of Berkeley and Alameda County moving into the red tier. According to the update, research involving human subjects not affiliated with campus may resume, and phase three laboratory density management plans previously approved in December may be implemented.

The update noted that other changes will be posted to the campus coronavirus website and announced in a newsletter. Campus also reminded vaccinated individuals on or near campus to continue wearing a face covering, get COVID-19 tested and comply with requirements for entering or working on campus.

“It’s important for all members of the campus community to remain vigilant and to follow all public health guidelines to avoid another surge in cases in the short-term,” the update reads. “Wear your mask. Wash hands often. Practice social distancing. Add CA Notify to your phone. Get tested regularly. When eligible, get vaccinated.”

Thao Nguyen is the city news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @tnguyen_dc.