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Oakland and Berkeley Abruptly Shut Down All Outdoor Dining

All Alameda County restaurants may only serve takeout for now

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Alameda County announced Friday night that revised state guidance means the region must shut down all outdoor dining.
Xinhua/Wang Ying via Getty Images

In a Friday night announcement, officials in Alameda County — the region that includes Oakland, Berkeley, and Pleasanton (among other notable cities) — announced that bars, restaurants, and wineries in the area must immediately halt sit-down, outdoor dining and revert to takeout and delivery service, only. The news comes nearly a month after outdoor dining launched in the region, and as a surprise to officials who say that recently-revised state guidelines prompted the shutdown.

According to a press release sent at 9:12 Friday night, county officials learned Friday that guidance issued by the California Department of Public Health (DPH) on July 9 states that restaurants anywhere in the state may “be open to drive-through or other pick-up/delivery options,” but must not allow sit-down dining, outdoors or in.

If a county wants to allow its restaurants to be open for sit-down dining, it must submit what’s called an attestation to the DPH, a document in which county officials detail COVID-19 infection rates, plans on how to manage an increase in cases, and safety protocols for reopening businesses, the new guidance says. If the DPH approves the attestation, it will grant a variance for the county, and the county can then allow the additional activities.

Prior to the July 9 guidance, the state had required attestations from counties to relax regulations enough to allow the reopening of bars that do not serve food. According to a San Jose Mercury News report from June 30, the Alameda County Public Health Department asked the county’s Board of Supervisors not to submit such an attestation, saying that an uptick in coronavirus cases had placed all its reopening plans on hold. (According to Alameda County’s reopening roadmap, while outdoor dining resumed on June 19, the area has no timeline for the reopening of restaurant dining rooms or bars without food.) As of Saturday morning, it remains one of only two California counties without a variance — Imperial County, at the southern border of the state, is the other holdout.

“We are concerned by the increase in local cases, disproportionate impact on communities of color, local impact of the outbreak at San Quentin State Prison, and the alarming disease trends we see in counties that have opened at a faster rate,” the county said in June, explaining that further reopenings would be on hold until case counts dropped. However, all businesses that were presently open could remain open, the county believed at the time — that is, until the state tightened things this week.

Case counts haven’t dropped in Alameda County, however. As of Friday, Alameda County had recorded 7,485 total cases of coronavirus, the most of any Bay Area county, and 147 of those were fatal. Even so, as of publication time, Alameda County is still not on the state watchlist of counties that were ordered by Governor Gavin Newsom to shut down indoor dining and bars. Even those counties on the watchlist (Colusa, Contra Costa, Fresno, Glenn, Imperial, Kern, Kings, Los Angeles, Madera, Marin, Merced, Monterey, Napa, Orange, Placer, Riverside, Sacramento, San Benito, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Joaquin, Santa Barbara, Solano, Stanislaus, Sutter, Tulare, Ventura, Yolo and Yuba, as of publication time) are still allowed to serve diners that are seated outside, Newsom confirmed last week.

When reached for comment, Alameda County officials would only repeat that “while Alameda County’s Health Officer Order allowed for outdoor dining, under this stricter state guidance, all restaurants, wineries and bars in Alameda County may only be open for drive-through or pick-up/delivery options.” According to the SF Chronicle, Alameda County public health officials said Friday that they’d already planned to seek a variance to allow outdoor drinking, as soon as next week. If so, that variance would also allow outdoor dining to resume. But without that variance, outdoor dining won’t be happening in any city across Alameda County, and takeout and delivery will be the only option for that region’s diners.