After long months of strict COVID-19 restrictions and fear around the disease, Berkeley residents and businesses may finally be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.
In a press release Tuesday, Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín announced the city has vaccinated half its population with at least one dose. The milestone puts Berkeley ahead of the 32% national vaccination rate and on track for California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s plan to fully reopen the state by June 15.
“Throughout the whole pandemic, we have really been working with the university, working with our residents to try to make decisions based on science and to help control the spread,” Arreguín said. “This is one more example of Berkeley really leading in our response to the pandemic.”
A major contributor to Berkeley’s widespread vaccination is its status as one of a few cities in the state with its own public health department, according to Arreguín. The Berkeley Public Health Division allows the city to make decisions accommodating Berkeley’s needs and has a direct pipeline to vaccine sources. Arreguín added that large volunteer turnouts have also bolstered vaccination efforts.
While Berkeley has been ahead of the state in handling the pandemic, the county’s case rates and status will ultimately determine when the city will fully reopen, Arreguín added.
Alex Knox, executive director of the Telegraph Business Improvement District, said he remains “guarded” about the timeline. He added that local businesses have reopened based on their own safety assessments in addition to city public health guidelines.
“A lot of businesses in the Telegraph district have kept their guard up as well about what the reopening possibilities look like and what it’s going to take to get there,” Knox said. “Generally, Telegraph businesses have taken additional precautions to protect their customers, employees and stop the spread of the virus than what is required in public health orders.”
Many local businesses such as yoga studios and bars have been hit especially hard by the pandemic, added Heather Hensley, executive director of the North Shattuck Association. Several businesses in Downtown Berkeley have also closed, according to John Caner, CEO of the Downtown Berkeley Association.
Caner added that pedestrian counts have been down about 80% for most of the year due to the absence of frequenters such as students and nearby office workers.
At the same time, businesses are hopeful about reopening plans even if it may take time for people to “get back into the rhythm,” Hensley said. While about 18 stores have closed in the Telegraph district, multiple businesses including Delhi Diner, Bunz and The Apothecarium have opened, according to Knox.
“We are beginning to get out of this,” Arreguín said. “Going around Berkeley, seeing families and kids out at playgrounds, seeing people out at local restaurants supporting local businesses — it seems like our city is coming back to life and that is really encouraging.”