A sign awaiting customers at Awaken Cafe & Roasting on Broadway in downtown Oakland. Credit: Brian Krans

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Tuesday was a big day for California: A majority of the state’s pandemic-related restrictions, including most mask mandates and social distancing measures, were lifted at midnight. 

But things didn’t immediately seem that much different around typically busy areas of Oakland. A mix of masked and unmasked faces made their way around Lake Merritt and Grand Avenue. People still wore masks and practiced social distancing in Fruitvale.  

Downtown on Broadway, Cortt Dunlap opened the doors at Awaken Cafe & Roasting to the public at 8 a.m. for the first time since March 2020 when the first shelter-in-place orders were issued in the Bay Area. Now, 15 months later, California has abandoned its color-coded tier system and Awaken looks much different on the inside with new floors, countertops, and backsplashes.

But there’s one big change compared to the last 12 years Awaken has been open: The restroom is available to paying customers only. That restriction is meant to cut down on the number of people coming in and out of the shop, just for the time being.

“We’re being pretty cautious,” Dunlap said. “We want to make sure it’s safe for everyone.”

Cortt Dunlap, owner of Awaken Cafe & Roasting on Broadway in downtown Oakland, after opening the doors to the public on Tuesday. He says not much will change for his business until people return to working in their offices downtown. Credit: Brian Krans

Just down the way on Telegraph, Rick Eggers was squeezing grapefruits for Cafe Van Kleef’s signature greyhounds. The bartenders have been serving people at tables in a parklet out front, but the lifting of orders Tuesday means the bar itself can once again be packed to capacity with maskless faces. 

“We’ve been starting to get busier on the weekends,” said Eggers, Van Kleef’s day manager. “Everyone is excited to get out.”

Arguably no one is more excited for people to get out than Gov. Gavin Newsom. 

Earlier Tuesday, standing before a podium at Universal Studios in Los Angeles with a sign that read “California roars back” and flanked by minions and Optimus Prime, an unmasked Newsom announced, “California is open again.”

The lifting of restrictions means Oakland libraries will be back to their pre-pandemic hours, and the library’s African American Museum and Oakland History Center are reopening. Matt Berson, a spokesperson for the library system, noted however that “masks are still required for everyone entering the library regardless of vaccination status.”

Where are masks required?

While guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say fully vaccinated people don’t need to wear a mask when outdoors or most situations indoors, the state and Alameda County’s mask mandates say everyone, regardless of vaccination status, are required to wear a mask: 

  • On public transit and at airports, train and subway stations, and ferry landings
  • When indoors with children, such as at schools and childcare centers
  • In hospitals, long-term care facilities, and other healthcare settings
  • At correctional facilities and detention centers
  • In homeless and emergency shelters, and cooling centers

Counties and cities can still have local health rules requiring masks in certain scenarios, although Alameda County and the city of Oakland continue to follow the state’s guidelines. Those include requiring unvaccinated people to wear masks in indoor public settings and businesses like retail stores, restaurants, theaters, places of worship, and state and local government offices serving the public.

Cal/OSHA, the state agency that regulates workplace safety, currently requires that all employees wear masks indoors and maintain social distancing protocols, although the agency’s board is expected to vote on revised guidance regarding masks and social distancing based on a person’s vaccine status on Thursday. 

The California Department of Public Health recommends that businesses post information on vaccine requirements and “allow vaccinated individuals to self-attest that they are in compliance prior to entry.” Or they can simply require proof of vaccination or that all patrons wear masks. California won’t be requiring people to use vaccine “passports” or other ways to prove they’ve been vaccinated, leaving those decisions to individual businesses instead, according to Newsom. 

Newsom said he doesn’t want mask guidelines to result in confrontations. “We want people to be thoughtful,” Newsom said. “We want people to be kind.”

Eggers at Cafe Van Kleef said the business will use an honor system when it comes to a person’s vaccination status and whether or not they choose to wear a mask inside the bar. The bartenders and other staff will be wearing masks, he said. “It’s a real gray area,” Eggers said.

Rick Eggers, day manager at Cafe Van Kleef, gets the bar ready to welcome back patrons at full capacity after state officials lifted restrictions as of Tuesday, June 15. Credit: Brian Krans

While the statewide opening comes as California has the lowest case rates and highest vaccination rates in the country, Newsom said it’s too early to declare mission accomplished. “This is not a day to spike the football,” he said. 

(Another reason to not spike the football is that no Alameda residents were picked in Tuesday’s “Vax for the Win” lottery that gave out $1.5 million to 10 vaccinated Californians.) 

All told, about 79% of people 12 and older in Alameda County have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. In Oakland, nearly 62%—or more than 222,000 people—are now considered fully vaccinated. 

What else is open in Oakland?

While capacity limits for most venues are now gone, not everyone is jumping at the opportunity to kick open the doors. 

The Oakland A’s—ranked first in the American League West— played yet another home game against the Angels on Tuesday to a crowd at 26% of the Coliseum’s full capacity, or just under 12,200 people. That’s the same level it’s been operating at since the A’s home opener on April 1. (And while it’s no longer a federally run vaccination center, fans can still get their shots there, along with free tickets to a game.) 

The city of Oakland also announced several openings on Tuesday, including Town Camp for kids 5-12 years old, two new outdoor fitness courts at Lowell and Arroyo Viejo parks, and five public swimming pools: Lions, Temescal, Fremont, deFremery, and East Oakland Sports Center and Water Park.

Also open as of Tuesday are boating and sailing camps at Lake Merritt Boating Center, Ace Kids Golf at Lake Chabot, and tennis courts and playgrounds citywide. The city’s adult softball league will begin June 21 and Junior Tennis Camp and the Oakland Neighborhood Basketball League will also resume this summer. A full list is available on the city’s website

Back inside Awaken Cafe downtown, two women sat maskless at separate tables around noon, working on laptops as a fan blew air around inside with the front door wide open. Employees and people ordering and waiting for their beverages wore masks. 

Dunlap was glad to be open again after doing take-out and mail-order during most of the pandemic. He said he didn’t want to go through the “whiplash” of repeatedly opening and closing as the colored tiers changed. He said having June 15 as a day to shoot far was easier overall. 

“We could have been fully open for business eight months ago, but no one’s downtown,” Dunlap said, adding he doesn’t expect much to change in terms of foot traffic downtown during the day until more people are back working in their offices. 

“My gut instinct says that this is how it will be through the summer,” Dunlap said.