As California begins a return to normalcy following its June 15 reopening date, the city of Berkeley lifted a broad range of COVID-19 restrictions Tuesday following state guidelines.
A large part of the changes impacts local businesses and restrictions on gathering capacities. According to state guidelines, capacity limitations and physical distancing restrictions for both indoor and outdoor settings are being completely removed for customers and guests.
“Businesses can be opened to the capacity that they feel comfortable,” said John Caner, CEO of the Downtown Berkeley Association. “Part of it is largely the restaurants. I’m not sure if they’ve been limited to 25 or 50% capacity; my understanding is that they can go to 100% if they’re comfortable.”
As counties across the state have been moving into lower tiers on the Blueprint for a Safer Economy, restrictions have gradually eased. The blueprint, however, expired Tuesday as the state moves toward a new set of guidelines outlined by its Beyond the Blueprint framework.
Alex Knox, executive director at the Telegraph Business Improvement District, said businesses have been “optimistic” about improving trends since the start of the calendar year, including the partial return of students for the spring semester.
Despite the recent gradual easings of COVID-19 restrictions, businesses in the Downtown Berkeley Association still see only about a third of their usual headcounts, according to Caner. The decreased patronage can be attributed to the lack of students on campus, Caner added.
“We’re expecting to see (headcounts) rebound with the reopening, but as you know a lot of the students have been online,” Caner said. “We don’t expect to fully rebound until August when the students return.”
Caner said the association is planning events to boost patronage, including a “welcome back event” June 17 from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Downtown Berkeley Bart Plaza and a Pride event June 24.
Knox said the Telegraph Business Improvement District is also planning to bring back festivals and smaller public events throughout the year, including the annual Grateful Day festival in October.
“There’s an increased focus on bringing back public events, that’s another piece to look forward to,” Knox said. “ We hope to have more activity like that, and it’s going to be easier to do so with more clarity on what’s possible and what’s safe to do than last year.”
While many restrictions will be lifted, some health guidelines will remain.
City spokesperson Matthai Chakko said Berkeley will require city staff to continue wearing masks and observing social distancing guidelines. However, Chakko added that city workers will not be required to be vaccinated at this time.
Stefan Elgstrand, legislative aide in the office of Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín, said in an email that masks will still be required in city buildings, regardless of vaccination status. While there is no vaccine mandate, it is still highly encouraged.
Furthermore, employers and businesses must still abide by current workplace rules set by the state Division of Occupational Safety and Health, or Cal/OSHA, in November. Employers must implement a COVID-19 prevention program and provide face coverings for workers, according to the Cal/OSHA guidelines.
Lastly, state guidelines for “mega” events with more than 5,000 attendees for indoor events and 10,000 attendees for outdoor events require all attendees to either verify their vaccine status or provide a negative test result.
For students, many campus services will begin to resume in-person summer hours between June 15 and July 12, according to campus spokesperson Adam Ratliff. However, Ratliff added that other services such as Berkeley Recreational Sports plan to maintain capacity limits while they continue to transition services.
In addition, classes with less than 200 students will have in-person instruction in the fall. In contrast to city guidelines, campus will enforce a UC-wide vaccination mandate and require those with medical or religious exemptions to get tested regularly.
“In the United States, everyone 12 years of age or older is eligible for the vaccine free of charge. The vaccines are extremely safe and highly effective — we strongly recommend that everyone gets vaccinated,” said University Health Services Assistant Vice Chancellor Guy Nicolette in a campuswide update.