The New Parish has converted has worked with local groups to promote COVID-19 testing in lieu of their doors being closed to live music shows.
Indoor events with a live performer are not allowed to sell food and drinks. Credit: Amir Aziz

If you go see a band play at a concert hall, or attend a live comedy night at a bar, what rules will you have to follow?

Oakland’s Cultural Affairs Commission, the East Bay Venue Coalition, the Alameda County Healthcare Services Agency, and the Alameda County Public Health Department hosted a virtual town hall this week to discuss health and safety guidelines for events. Health experts provided some clarity, which we’ve summarized below.

Here are the key takeaways

The rules are extremely complicated and apply differently on a nearly case-by-case basis depending on the type of event, the venue, whether it’s indoors or outdoors, and whether the event is private or open to the public. And the current rules are temporary and won’t apply after June 15 if vaccine supply is deemed sufficient and hospitalization rates remain stable and low. There aren’t rules yet for what venues and event organizers will have to do after June 15. County health officials said this week that masks will probably continue to be mandated, but other guidelines have yet to be written.

If you need to look up all of the current rules, here’s where to go for indoor events, outdoor events, and private events.

Indoor events with a live performer are not allowed to sell food and drinks. The venue must have a separate space away from where the performance is taking place to sell food or beverages. 

Outdoor events can include food and beverages in the performance area. Indoor venue operators also have to ensure attendees have recently been tested with negative results, or show a full vaccination card. This isn’t required for outdoor events.

At public and private events held indoors and outdoors, attendees have to stay seated at their table at all times. You can’t get up and dance, and you definitely can’t go mingle with anyone who is not part of your household. But, if you’re at a private event, you can be seated with people who aren’t part of your household, if everyone at the table can show proof that they’re vaccinated.

These rules that will apply to all indoor and outdoor public and private events:

  • Attendees and event staff will be required to use face masks 
  • Attendees will have to follow physical distancing guidelines, meaning keeping six feet apart from strangers, including while seated at their tables
  • Event organizers and venue operators must follow the state’s official Workplace COVID-19 Prevention Program, which ensures protections for venue workers and contractors
  • Event organizers and venue operators must follow Alameda County’s guidelines for responding to any potential outbreaks
  • Venues and facilities will have to ensure good ventilation. More about this below
  • Venues will also have to ensure thorough cleaning and disinfecting of surfaces between events spread two hours apart

How should venue operators ensure good ventilation indoors?

Alameda County Public Health staffer Iesha Sheppard said ventilation for all indoor events is a crucial requirement. While she could not suggest the best type of ventilation system, she said Cal/OSHA has a COVID-19 Guidance page with more information for venue operators. Some live shows use atmospherics like fog machines that disperses tiny particles into the air, reflecting the stage lights. There isn’t clear guidance yet on whether or not this type of machine will be allowed.

Can yoga studios and other spaces offer un-masked classes and events for vaccinated people?

According to Eileen Ng of the Alameda County Healthcare Services Agency, California has a mask-mandate for indoor events, regardless of vaccination status. This probably won’t change after June 15, but county health experts couldn’t say for sure last night.

What about outdoor events that aren’t held at private venues, bars, concert halls—like a gathering in a public park or a parking lot? Is this considered a venue, and must attendees follow the same rules?

Ng explained that any location where there’s an event or gathering is still considered an outdoor “venue.” As such, the host of the event still has to comply with the same state guidelines: attendees have to be seated and no mixing of guests is allowed. 

What about musicians and other performers? Do they have to wear a mask on stage? What if they’re not vaccinated?

Ng said that the state’s COVID-19 GUIDANCE: Indoor Seated Live Events and Performances provides some answers to these questions. Under state rules, performers must stay six feet away from the audience. If not vaccinated, performers must get tested for COVID twice a week until the day of the performance. Ng also suggested the use of plexiglass between the stage and the audience to prevent the possible droplet transmission of COVID-19. 

What if we party too hard and COVID cases start increasing? Is there a chance Alameda County could revert back to one of the restricted tiers (purple, red, orange, yellow, etc.) after June 15?

Ieshia Sheppard said it’s possible Alameda County could move back to the red tier for two weeks. It will all depend on what infection and hospitalization rates look like by then.

Some well-known Oakland bar, nightclub, and events organizers also asked questions

Mike Woolson, Oakland First Fridays marketing and communications director, asked to have a meeting with the county’s public health department to better understand what guidelines the festival will need to follow when it restarts, hopefully later this year. Before the pandemic, the monthly outdoor street fair drew over 30,000 people each month. 

Michael O’Connor, the owner of The New Parish, asked Ng to clarify whether indoor events were allowed to have food and drinks during the show’s duration. Ng explained that no indoor event with a live performance is allowed to serve any food or alcohol. Guests must remain seated at their tables with their masks on. Venues, however, are allowed to have a “pre-designated food and drinks area” if it’s not located in the same room as the live performance. 

Billy Joe Agan, the co-owner of Eli’s Mile High Club, asked about managing crowds at his bar, which has an outdoor space and an indoor space. Can people inside who are watching a live performance go back and forth between the indoor space and outdoor space? Can people inside do likewise? Ng explained that roaming between spaces isn’t allowed.

Still have questions? The Oakland Cultural Affairs Commission will have the full recording of the town hall posted on its website in the coming days. The commission also plans on hosting another town hall after June 15.

Azucena Rasilla is a bilingual journalist from East Oakland reporting in Spanish and in English, and a longtime reporter on Oakland arts, culture and community. As an independent local journalist, she has reported for KQED Arts, The Bold Italic, Zora and The San Francisco Chronicle. She was a writer and social media editor for the East Bay Express, helping readers navigate Oakland’s rich artistic and creative landscapes through a wide range of innovative digital approaches.