Outdoor restaurant dining, larger religious services and all retail stores are on track to be allowed again in Alameda County at the end of next week, under proposed updates to the COVID-19 shelter order unveiled by the county's health officer on Friday.
In response, Pleasanton city officials -- who'd advocated for the Tri-Valley to reopen sooner due to lower infection numbers locally -- agreed to close Main Street to vehicular traffic on weekends starting next Friday afternoon (June 19) to give restaurants and shops more room to operate outdoors.
"We are pleased to hear Alameda County Public Health Department has accelerated the reopening of some local businesses next Friday, including indoor and outdoor retail and outdoor dining," Pleasanton City Manager Nelson Fialho told the Weekly.
"Having this announcement now, will give our businesses some time to plan and prepare to open on June 19," Fialho added. "At the same time, it’s up to all of us to maintain safety standards locally through social distancing and the necessary use of face masks while in public. I’m confident Pleasanton is up to the challenge."
In announcing the new health order, effective next Friday, Alameda County health officer Dr. Erica Pan cited stabilizing conditions in recent weeks but encouraged residents to exercise caution and still adhere to social distancing and personal hygiene recommendations.
"The indicators we monitor to determine if we should continue moving forward through reopening are stable or improving," Pan said in a statement on Friday.
"We will continue to have more cases, but the steady increase in hospitalizations and the steep increase in the case rate we were seeing in late May has slowed and the hospitalizations have stabilized. We are also making significant progress in expanding and improving the efficiency of our contact tracing teams," Pan added.
The new order issued by ACPHD comes one week after the three Tri-Valley mayors co-signed a letter calling on Pan to take a subregional approach to the county regulations and reopen the Tri-Valley because of low coronavirus case rates in three cities and more expedited reopenings for nearby San Ramon and Danville.
The mayors also pointed to the collaboration among the three cities, Stanford-ValleyCare and the Alameda County Fairgrounds to operate a regional COVID-19 testing site open to residents of Pleasanton, Dublin and Livermore with no out-of-pocket cost nor appointment. City officials announced late last week that the fairgrounds testing center would be extended through July 10 -- 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays for adults and kids 10 years old and up.
Pan formally denied the mayors' request on Friday afternoon in a response letter that cited her department's new order allowing more reopenings countywide in the week ahead.
"Our responsibility as a Health Department is to the whole county, and we can’t risk losing ground we’ve gained against COVID-19 by introducing regional complexity at this time. We’ve heard you and others in the community and think our modified reopening plan addresses some of the concerns raised and keeps us on the road to safe reopening," Pan wrote in the response letter to mayors David Haubert (Dublin), Jerry Thorne (Pleasanton) and John Marchand (Livermore).
Haubert expressed support for the latest health order and said he thought the Tri-Valley mayors' letter played a key role in the more expedited reopenings.
"I’m pleased that Dr. Pan listened to the Mayors of the Tri Valley and I’m thankful to Supervisor Haggerty for also supporting our request," Haubert told the Weekly on Friday evening.
ACPHD reported as of Sunday there were 4,320 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 112 deaths among county residents. The Tri-Valley had recorded 67 cases in Pleasanton, 60 in Livermore and 32 in Dublin -- plus 56 at the Santa Rita Jail in Dublin, which is kept in a separate category.
That represented upticks of three cases in Pleasanton, three in Livermore and four in Dublin compared to one week earlier. (Countywide increases were 515 positive tests and 11 deaths during that weeklong period.)
The revised Alameda County health order will focus on increased personal and economic activities in group settings with safety protections in place -- outdoor dining at restaurants, indoor and outdoor retail, religious services, outdoor fitness classes and outdoor museums.
Pan said her department also expects to loosen restrictions in two- to four-week increments under its reopening plan that outlines phasing for the potential future return of all activities.
Retail and outdoor dining will be authorized to reopen at reduced capacity to ensure physical distancing and safety plans must be implemented, in alignment with the state's guidance. Pan "strongly recommended" those businesses continue to focus primarily on pickup and delivery options to limit lines and crowds.
Limited religious services will be allowed to resume too, for up to 100 people or less than 25% of building capacity, whichever is lower. Pan encouraged faith groups to continue virtual services (especially for high-risk congregants) and limit attendance to 25 people and provide services outdoors.
"We’re balancing the economic and spiritual health of our community with public health," Supervisor Nate Miley, whose district includes Pleasanton, said in a statement. "These openings, including the services industries, may disproportionately affect our already burdened communities of color, and we will need to be mindful of protecting everyone’s health while we’re out and about."
"I’m glad to see that we can take this step forward as a county,” added Supervisor Scott Haggerty, whose district includes Livermore and Dublin.
"It’s important to have parity across our small and large businesses, as well as across the region. The health of Alameda County residents is paramount and I’m confident that our restaurants, retailers and faith communities will prioritize the safety of their staff, customers and community," Haggerty added.
To support business reopenings in Pleasanton, city officials have signed off on the Pleasanton Downtown Association's proposal to close Main Street to vehicles for eight successive weekends starting on Father's Day weekend.
The closure will include the length of Main Street from Bernal Avenue to Del Valle Parkway, with openings for cross/through traffic at St. John/Ray streets and Rose Avenue/Neal Street.
It will start at about 2 p.m. on Fridays and continue through about 10 p.m. Sundays -- operational from 4 p.m. Fridays to 8 p.m. Sundays, with two hours on either end for setup and breakdown.
"During this street closure, restaurants, retailers and other downtown merchants will be allowed to expand their outdoor footprint to serve customers, following industry guidance and other applicable standards set out by the County and State," Fialho wrote in his letter to the PDA.
Downtown businesses that extend outdoors onto Main Street can extend 15 feet into the street but must leave current sidewalk clear. The middle 15 feet of Main Street will remain clear for emergency vehicle access and social distancing for pedestrians.
To expand into the public right-of-way, a business must provide the city with "a simple site plan." Restaurants can pursue extending their alcohol service by applying with the state for a temporary catering authorization.
The city and PDA will work to identify curbside pickup spots for retail on side streets as well as parking and safety protocols. They will also evaluate the street closure on a weekly basis, according to Fialho.
For the county's part, Pan reminded all businesses that operate "must complete the Site-Specific Protection Plan template and implement risk assessment and individual control measures, physical distancing, disinfecting and cleaning protocols, and employee training to prevent the spread of COVID-19."
She advised employers to implement COVID-19 health screenings before work and employees to complete self-assessments. She also encouraged residents to wear face coverings, including while protesting -- and if you protested, get tested for COVID-19.
"Next week's action to allow additional activities outside of the home relies heavily on all of us continuing the consistent use of face coverings, maintaining physical distancing, and practicing good hand hygiene," said Colleen Chawla, director of the Alameda County Health Care Services Agency. "These measures ensure that we are not only protecting ourselves and our families, but also the frontline workers in the businesses we will enjoy."