Alameda County files variance to keep outdoor dining open on recommendation from local public health officials

ALAMEDA COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) -- Even as Alameda County's COVID-19 numbers continue to go up, today the Board of Supervisors voted to file a variance attestation with the state, allowing public health officials to keep outdoor businesses open.

"We were very grateful for the approval process, it's something that we had hoped would come earlier but we are so grateful the supervisors passed it," said Kathy Weber with the Alameda Business Association.

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Governor Gavin Newsom's orders on Friday put many restaurants in the county in limbo, as he rolled back re-opening guidelines. As one of only two counties in the state without a variance, Alameda's public health officials had no power to advance local re-opening policy beyond the state's road map.

"I've been having text, emails, calls until one in the morning, until three in the morning, everyone was in an anxiety attack," said Madelin Saddik, President of the Alameda County Chamber of Commerce.

Supervisor Wilma Chan said it was a hard decision for her to vote yes because she's concerned about enforcement of safety guidelines and the pressure to speed up re-opening. She said she's proud the county only chose to apply for the variance, now.

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"The board letter that we have is going to say that we are still going to be very cautious but we are really doing this right now to continue to permit outdoor dining and the opening of outdoor activities at the Oakland Zoo," said Supervisor Chan.

Alameda's Public Health officers who spoke at the meeting asked for the letter of support. They said the variance strikes the right policy balance, giving local public health officials the flexibility to re-open safe outdoor activities.

The request comes as Alameda County's COVID-19 positive now number more than 8,000, the highest in the Bay Area.

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Dr. Nicholas Moss with Alameda Public Health told the supervisors, his team has some insights but no definitive explanation for the numbers.

"We have a large population of essential workers who are back at work, relatively early on who live in very dense housing," he said.

With the yes vote, Supervisors asked that public health officials pressure local authorities on enforcement. Public health officers said they will proceed with caution, continuing to recommend a pause on many activities.

Businesses say they want the trust of their public officials.

"We appreciate their confidence and we trust that local businesses will do what's best for their customers," said Weber.

The variance request now goes to the state, approval could come in a matter of days.

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