Changes to the city of Berkeley mask mandate will offer certain businesses the choice to allow vaccinated customers to remove face coverings indoors starting today.
On Oct. 28, city of Berkeley Public Health Officer Lisa Hernandez updated the previous health order by easing mask restrictions for groups less than 100 people that meet regularly, according to a city press release. Permitted spaces include offices, fitness centers and religious gatherings.
“This decision to allow certain indoor spaces where entirely vaccinated people can choose to unmask reflects the decline in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations as well as the enduring power of vaccination to limit spread and, especially, severe illness,” the press release states.
According to the city’s COVID-19 Dashboard, 95% of Berkeley residents have received complete vaccination for the virus as of press time.
According to Arthur Reingold, a campus public health professor and chair of the epidemiology division, the city of Berkeley has taken a cautious approach to reopening.
“They’ve been data-driven, they’ve been thoughtful, and if anything, they’ve erred on the side of protecting people and trying to prevent an additional spike in disease and infection,” Reingold said.
However, campus public health professor emeritus John Swartzberg warned the update may be “premature.”
California has experienced a 26% to 28% rise in COVID-19 cases over the past two weeks, according to Swartzberg. He added cooling temperatures and upcoming holiday celebrations will result in more indoor gatherings and positive cases.
Swartzberg described a cyclical pattern throughout COVID-19 restrictions of tight control followed by an opening up which hinders the public health progress made.
“We keep seeming to make that mistake, and it looks like we’re making it now,” Swartzberg said.
Swartzberg said he thinks the city should delay relaxing mask requirements until the beginning of 2022, depending on public health conditions at that time.
The new regulation is contingent on indoor institutions keeping a detailed record of entry and exit times for case tracking, as well as producing visible posters for symptom evaluation, according to the press release. Additionally, in the presence of an unvaccinated individual, all attendees must wear face coverings, regardless of vaccination status.
Hosts are required to verify the vaccination of all indoor consumers or event attendees, the press release adds. Proof of vaccination may include print or digital vaccination cards, confirmation from a health care provider or digital QR code.
However, Lee Riley, the chair of the campus division of infectious disease and vaccinology, questioned the efficacy of such verification practices.
“I’m a little worried,” Riley said. “This new recommendation relies on people being very honest about what they say about their vaccination status.”
Riley noted while effects of transmission will likely be mild, the primary stress will be placed on elderly and immunocompromised individuals. He encouraged mask-wearing as a key defense against COVID-19.
The city press release also encourages continued vaccination in order to decrease COVID-19 spread. Moreover, the regulation change reserves the right for individual businesses to enforce mask requirements on their own terms.
“Vaccinations, face coverings and other easily available public health tools shepherded us to a safer future,” Hernandez said in the press release. “As more of us vaccinate and protect each other, we open up more safe spaces.”