While Alameda County has reinstated an indoor mask policy, the city of Berkeley has instead chosen to hold off on doing so, as first reported by Berkeleyside.
Citing high vaccination rates and low case rates, city spokesperson Matthai Chakko said Berkeley currently has no need to reinstate its mandate.
“While we support other Health Officers’ decisions to use whatever tools are appropriate for their jurisdictions, the data in Berkeley does not currently warrant a Health Order,” Chakko said in an email.
Chakko noted that the city’s case rate sits at 40 cases per 100,000 people, a number which has declined from 65 cases three weeks prior. Furthermore, Chakko emphasized the city’s 94% fully vaccinated population, adding that 81% of Berkeley residents have received their first booster.
In addition, Chakko added that the city continues to strongly recommend the Berkeley community masks indoors and has joined 11 other Bay Area health officers in its effort to encourage the public to do so.
Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, has chosen to reinstate indoor masking effective as of two weeks ago following “strong advisement” from the city, according to BUSD spokesperson Trish McDermott.
“Our recent case count has been higher than the Delta surge, and similar to where the Omicron surge left us in February,” McDermott said in an email. “January of this year is still the month with the highest case count, followed by May.”
McDermott added that while the school year ended last Friday, BUSD staff is still required to mask this week.
John Caner, the CEO for the Downtown Berkeley Association, welcomed the city’s decision. According to Caner, despite downtown foot traffic increasing by 20% from pre-COVID-19 levels at the start of the pandemic to about 75% of pre-COVID-19 levels now, businesses are not yet out of the woods.
“Our restaurants and businesses are still struggling,” Caner said. “Our public health officer is doing a data-driven policy, which I think is important.”
With regards to COVID-19 data, Caner said Berkeley is “a hole in the donut” with how its situation is different from other areas in the county, also echoing Chakko’s statement regarding high vaccination rates.
Furthermore, Caner emphasized that Berkeley’s decision was not a “willy nilly” decision, but came as a result of the work from our own health department — a factor which he also believes makes Berkeley unique within the county.
For Caner, the most important thing is offering patrons a choice based on their own background.
“Not every restaurant has the ability to provide outdoor dining,” Caner said. “But the idea is to offer various options for customers and people have different risk appetites based on their age and demographics and just personal choices.”