Alameda County moves to orange tier of reopening, health experts caution changes

Photo of outdoor dining
William Webster/Staff
In accordance with California’s reopening system amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Alameda County has transitioned from the red tier to the orange tier. According to a county press release, Alameda County must remain in the orange tier for at least three weeks before being allowed to move to a less restrictive tier.

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With COVID-19 case rates and hospitalizations continuing to fall and California ramping up its vaccination efforts, the state announced Tuesday that Alameda County has been cleared to enter the orange tier of the state’s reopening system.

Effective Wednesday, the county moved from the red tier to the orange tier.

As of press time, Alameda County’s adjusted daily case rate is 2.6 per 100,000 residents, with a testing positivity rate of 1.1%, according to a press release from the Alameda County Health Care Services Agency.

The county saw a decline in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations throughout the last month. The city of Berkeley is also seeing an increase in fully vaccinated residents to about 27% among those who are older than the age of 16, according to a city press release.

“Our metrics have improved, but this pandemic is not yet in our rear-view mirror,” said Dr. Nicholas Moss, Alameda County health officer, in the county’s press release. “Variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 are circulating in our county… while nearly a quarter of Alameda County residents aged 16 and older have been fully vaccinated, we aren’t at the levels required for broad community protection or immunity.”

While metrics may change, the county is required to remain in the orange tier for at least three weeks before moving into a less restrictive tier, according to the press release.

With the orange tier, businesses such as restaurants and movie theaters are permitted to have up to 50% maximum indoor capacity, while other businesses such as breweries and gyms will be able to open at 25% capacity.

The shift to the orange tier, however, is being met with some caution by health experts.

John Swartzberg, UC Berkeley clinical professor emeritus of infectious diseases and vaccinology, said the “last thing” people should do during the pandemic is be inside an enclosed space alongside others for a long period of time while not wearing masks, especially since COVID-19 is spread by respiratory droplets.

“That, we’ve demonstrated over and over again, is arguably one of the most dangerous things you can do with this virus,” Swartzberg said.

Additionally, a fourth surge in cases is likely to come, according to Swartzberg, as the current national number of cases per day mirrors the amount during the summer surge last year.

Swartzberg also expressed concerns about patrons drinking alcohol in restaurants, which could lead to less caution, and the risks of exposure that employees would face as they work indoors for longer periods.

According to Swartzberg, while he is “sensitive” to the financial struggles that family-owned restaurants have faced during the pandemic and understands that it is “terrible,” he does not see the reasoning behind having them open for indoor dining.

“Is indoor dining really so critical for my survival? Of course not,” Swartzberg said. “It’s only a pleasure, and right now, I think that we should be holding off on that.”

Although the city and county are changing certain restrictions, UC Berkeley announced to students that campus changes will be delayed until at least April 5, due to the risk of a surge from spring break travel.

In addition to reiterating public health guidelines in its press release, the city advised residents to primarily participate in outdoor activities with social distancing and to consider staggering activities throughout an extended period of time.

“Everyone should always do the essentials: stay home when sick, wear face coverings, wash hands frequently, and keep physical distance with those not in your household,” the press release states.

Contact Natalie Lu and Thao Nguyen at [email protected].