A whirlwind week for COVID-19 regulations in Alameda County settled with some newfound clarity on Wednesday.
In the morning, California state officials approved the county's request for a variance from certain state health guidelines amid the pandemic, meaning outdoor dining will be allowed to continue unimpeded throughout Alameda County, including in Pleasanton, after confusion arose over the status of restaurant activities outside last weekend.
But Wednesday also represented the first day other restrictions imposed by the state took effect locally because Alameda County experienced its third consecutive day on Gov. Gavin Newsom's county monitoring list due to reported high uptick in COVID-19 cases. That includes immediate closure of all indoor malls and halting all indoor worship services.
"It is critical we all do our part to save lives and slow the spread of COVID-19," said Neetu Balram, public information manager for the Alameda County Public Health Department.
"Residents and those who work in Alameda County can help by staying home as much as possible and especially when you're sick, wearing a face covering whenever you leave home, maintaining at least 6 feet of distance from anyone outside of your household and washing or sanitizing your hands frequently," Balram added in the statement issued Wednesday morning.
Officials throughout the Tri-Valley and county are urging residents to remain diligent and safe because the coronavirus is still very much present in the community.
Alameda County continues to lead the Bay Area in total COVID-19, with 8,478 confirmed as of Tuesday's data. That's up from the 7,725 cases countywide recorded as of Saturday's data.
ACPHD reported 154 deaths from COVID-19 in the county as of Tuesday.
Communities with high positive counts include Oakland (3,259) and Hayward (1,292), with Fremont (435) and San Leandro (429) on the next tier.
The Tri-Valley cities had been on the lower end in comparison but their positive tallies have increased over recent weeks as well. Livermore now stands at 336 confirmed cases, Pleasanton with 170 and Dublin with 88.
It is unclear how many of the county's 154 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.
The virus has become that much more personal for the Alameda County Sheriff's Office, with Deputy Oscar Rocha battling for his life in intensive care with a serious case of COVID-19.
ACSO officials shared on social media a photograph of the deputy's hand holding another in the hospital bed over the weekend with a message of support for their colleague.
"This is the hand of one of our senior deputy sheriff's in critical condition in ICU with COVID-19. He's fighting so hard to survive. If you believe in prayer or the power of love and positive energy please send it to him and his family. #covid19 #isreal," they wrote in the Instagram post.
Also last week, the Pac-12 Conference confirmed that its Commissioner Larry Scott, who lives in Danville, tested positive for COVID-19 after exhibiting "mild flu-like symptoms."
To support testing options for local residents, the regional COVID-19 testing site at the Alameda County Fairgrounds for residents of Pleasanton, Dublin and Livermore was extended through August, Pleasanton city officials announced last Friday.
The hours were reduced by one starting this Monday for the weekday-only testing site, running now from 9 a.m. to noon. The supply allows for a maximum of 200 individual tests per day.
The drive-thru operation is open to any resident of the three cities, 10 years old or older, regardless of symptoms -- with no appointment necessary and no out-of-pocket expense. The testing is to determine whether a person is currently infected with COVID-19.
From the state's perspective, the Alameda County's case rate over the past 14 days (109 per 100,000 residents as of Wednesday morning) is particularly alarming. The trend resulted in the state placing the county on the monitoring list Sunday.
"Elevated disease transmission" is the only problem category for which the county didn't meet state criteria to avoid the watch list -- hospitalization rates and hospital capacity metrics were still below the state's minimum threshold as of Wednesday.
"Factors driving increased case rates include increased interpersonal interactions without face coverings and physical distancing, and ongoing transmission among health care workers, within households, in frontline workplace settings, and in skilled nursing and other congregate living facilities," ACPHD said.
Because Alameda County has been on the monitoring list for a minimum of three straight days, it became subject to new restrictions for indoor activity that Newsom implemented for watch-list counties on Monday, including shutting malls like Stoneridge Shopping Center, closing offices for non-critical sectors and halting worship services inside (outdoor services are allowed with social distancing).
The governor's move also banned indoor fitness centers, personal care services, hair salons and barbershops, but those operations had not yet reopened in Alameda County.
Newsom also ordered all 58 counties to close indoor activities at restaurants, wineries, movie theaters, zoos, museums, card rooms and bars -- but those were already closed in Alameda County. Bars and the like are not allowed outdoors statewide either.
Outdoor dining, with proper health-and-safety protocols, had been endorsed without issue in the county since ACPHD's June 19 health order, but the situation was almost turned on its head last weekend.
The department released a statement last Saturday morning saying the updated state "industry guidance (for) restaurants" from July 9 effectively banned outdoor dining in "non-variance counties" -- those that did not receive previous approval for a variance from the state health regulations, including Alameda County.
The variance application was a procedural step that ACPHD officials planned to pursue this summer but held off when they hit the pause button on future reopenings June 29 amid a COVID-19 surge.
That left the status of outdoor dining in limbo last weekend in light of the revised state guidance document. For their part, city leaders in Pleasanton, Livermore and Dublin proceeded with their street closures and other moves to encourage outdoor restaurant activity last Saturday and Sunday while interpreting the state's updated terms as guidance, not a new health order.
ACPHD proceeded with the variance application and obtained a letter of support from the Alameda County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. The state processed and approved the request on Wednesday, allowing outdoor dining -- as well as outdoor activities at the Oakland Zoo.
"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," Balram said last weekend. "Approval of a variance is not an indication that we will pursue additional reopenings of other industries or sectors at this time."
After the variance approval, Pleasanton and Livermore city officials confirmed street closures in their respective downtowns will be in effect as planned this weekend.
"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," City Manager Nelson Fialho said.