The state of California's latest COVID-19 guidance effectively prohibits outdoor dining in Alameda County, but the three Tri-Valley cities are not changing plans already set for their jurisdictions this weekend.
The Alameda County Public Health Department released a statement on Saturday morning saying they learned Friday that the updated state "industry guidance (for) restaurants" from the day before tightened restrictions on "non-variance counties" -- those that did not receive previous approval for a variance from the state health regulations, including Alameda County.
But ACPHD's statement did not come with a corresponding amended local health order, so city leaders in Pleasanton, Livermore and Dublin are proceeding with their street closures and other moves to encourage outdoor restaurant activity while interpreting the state's updated terms as guidance, not a new order.
"The county's announcement is not a new order, but rather guidance in light of the State's more specific guidance related to outdoor dining. In the absence of a new County Order, the City will proceed with the planned weekend downtown street closure," City Manager Nelson Fialho told the Weekly on Saturday morning.
Officials from Livermore and Dublin released similar statements on Saturday that also promised their cities would not be making any changes to enforcement this weekend. Dublin offered a word of caution, as well, to restaurants that plan to operate with outdoor seated service.
"The State has developed Strike Teams that may or may not conduct enforcement this weekend in the County, so restaurants should understand this information if they hold (Alcohol Beverage Control) licenses," Dublin officials said.
All three cities said they hope to receive clarity from the county next week about these new developments from the state. ACPHD officials said they plan to apply for a formal variance in the days ahead.
As for what the situation means in practice starting this weekend, ACPHD spokesperson Neetu Balram said, "We shared the information we have about the state's updated guidance in the statement. We can't speak to enforcement because that rests with the state."
Alameda County -- which continues to lead the Bay Area in COVID-19 positive tests -- had allowed outdoor dining to resume on June 19 amid the coronavirus crisis, But an uptick in cases and hospitalizations caused officials to hit the pause button on future reopening steps on June 29, including a delay in formally applying for a state variance.
As a result, Alameda County is considered a "non-variance county" subject to state COVID-19 regulations, including the updated state guidance issued Thursday, ACPHD officials said Saturday. That includes all cities within the county, including Pleasanton, Livermore and Dublin.
"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-thru or pickup/delivery options," officials said, adding:
"Our decision to permit outdoor dining was based on the Health Officer’s assessment that outdoor activities, with appropriate protective measures, carry less risk than indoor activities. At the time, many other counties had applied for a variance alongside or shortly after opening outdoor dining without consequences, and Alameda County took that same approach.
"At that time the State did not differentiate dining guidance by indoor/outdoor as it now does. With the new guidance dated yesterday and enforcement actions observed last week in Santa Clara County, the State is demonstrating a new approach."
ACPHD representatives did not elaborate on why they did not pursue an official variance from the state in mid-to-late June as the department was issuing its amended shelter-in-place order.
The department did experience a leadership change in that time, with former interim health officer Dr. Erica Pan stepping down on June 29 to accept a position with the state government and her deputy, Dr. Nicholas Moss, being appointed as Alameda County's new interim health officer.
The county's June 19 health order -- which is still the order on the books, as of Saturday -- allowed outdoor dining at restaurants to resume, along with indoor and outdoor retail, religious services, outdoor fitness classes and outdoor museums.
The updated state guidance from Thursday applies only to restaurant activities.
ACPHD officials said they are now moving forward with obtaining a variance from the state and a letter of support will be on the agenda for the Board of Supervisors' regular meeting on Tuesday.
"While the data have not become more favorable, applying for a variance is a procedural action that would provide us with the flexibility to ensure that we can continue to allow the activities that the Health Officer determines are lower risk for our community," they said. "Approval of a variance is not an indication that we will pursue additional re-openings of other industries or sectors at this time."
As of Saturday morning's data, Alameda County continues to lead all Bay Area counties with 7,725 confirmed cases of COVID-19. The county reports 148 deaths on record caused by the virus.
Communities with high positive counts include Oakland (3,001) and Hayward (1,191), with Fremont (409) and San Leandro (384) on the next tier.
The Tri-Valley cities have been on the lower end in comparison but their positive tallies have increased over recent weeks. Livermore now stands at 271 confirmed cases, Pleasanton with 148 and Dublin with 77.
It is unclear how many of the county's 148 deaths from COVID-19 have occurred in the Tri-Valley, but one confirmed death involved a resident of the Livermore Community Living Center, a residential facility for military veterans.
For the three Tri-Valley cities, the difference between state guidance and a new health order remains a key distinction -- and the driving force behind their decision to keep street closures and other temporary zoning changes for outdoor business activity intact this weekend.
"While the (county) press release has new information, neither the County nor the State of California has issued new legal Orders," said Tamera LeBeau, public information officer for the city of Livermore.
"Therefore, City of Livermore will not be adjusting enforcement this weekend and First Street will remain closed throughout the weekend. Downtown businesses will be notified should the situation change," LeBeau said.
"The City of Dublin is aware of the discrepancy around the State and local order when it comes to outdoor dining. The City will not be conducting any local enforcement this weekend and will assess the discrepancy and seek clarity early next week on how to proceed," officials from Dublin said.
In Pleasanton's case, Fialho said the weekend-long closure of Main Street to vehicular traffic, allowing restaurant and retail businesses to expand into the roadway and conduct business in line with the county's June 19 order, was still in effect Saturday.
"The City of Pleasanton would like to remind residents to continue to wear face coverings when out in public and maintain social distance from others not in the same household -- it is critical that the public adhere to this requirement while out in public, including when visiting Main Street for outdoor dining," he said.
"First thing next week, we will work with the county and state to clarify if either is going to issue a new or revised Health Order as it relates to outdoor dining. At which time, the City will work to make necessary modifications," Fialho said.
LeBeau added, "The County has an item on the Board of Supervisors agenda on Tuesday to apply for Variance status with the State and that application could resolve this issue."