Oakland closes streets during COVID-19 pandemic; unhoused residents find shelter in hotels

Oakland residents at intersection of 98th Ave and Plymouth Street.
Physically distant pedestrians walking along 98th Ave at Plymouth St with "Road Closed to Thru Traffic" and pedestrian warning signs adjacent to the crosswalk entering Plymouth St as part of the Oakland Slow Streets program. (City of Oakland)
Family walking and biking on an Oakland Slow Street and wearing face coverings during COVID-19. (City of Oakland)

As of Easter, 189 Oakland residents have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the Alameda County Public Health Department. Within all of Alameda County, there have been 843 cases and 23 deaths. It is unclear how many Oakland residents have died due to COVID-19. Media reports have identified at least three deaths, most recently that of Gene Zahas, an Oakland businessman, who died last week due to COVID-19. 

Last week, the County launched a COVID-19 Dashboard in response to rising calls for city-level data and racial/ethnicity data. The dashboard also breaks down cases by age. The vast majority of positive cases are residents ages 21-44. The vast majority of cases are listed as having an “unknown” race. Less than 10 “known” unhoused residents have tested positive, as have 13 inmates at Santa Rita Jail.

Oakland closes 74-miles of streets to thru traffic

Last week, the City of Oakland announced the closure of 74-miles of Oakland streets to thru traffic to encourage walking, biking, and social activity during the COVID-19 pandemic. The pilot project, Oakland Slow Streets, declared all existing and proposed Neighborhood Bike Routes closed to through traffic. For frequently asked questions and maps, visit City of Oakland website.The program is set to end when the shelter-in-place order ends, or when city indicates.

Residents ride bikes near closed street.
Family biking on Oakland Slow Street at 42nd and Shafter. (City of Oakland)

Hotels for Oakland’s Unhoused Residents

Alameda County has reportedly housed 70 unhoused Oakland residents in two local hotels, KTVU reports. The county is operating about 400 rooms at two hotels near the Oakland Airport: Operation Comfort, at the Comfort Inn and Suites, and Operation Safer Ground, at the Radisson Hotel. According to California Governor Gavin Newsom, the state hopes to get 15,000 hotel rooms across the state. Alameda County will seek to have FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, reimburse the County for expenses. 

Unhoused residents and advocates have been critical of the government’s response. Needa Bee, founder of The Village in Oakland, a group that advocates for and helps organized unhoused residents said, “As we are seeing played out in tragic ways, the pandemic has exposed the injustice fault lines in our society. The response, or lack of response, will make this clear.” Officials hope to get 300 additional units, KTVU reports. KQED first reported efforts by local officials.

Also, Oakland Voices alumna Jo Ann Bell discusses her experience working at a local high school.

Every Monday and Thursday, Rasheed Shabazz and Momo Chang produce the Oakland ‘Rona Roundup, COVID-19 related stories impacting the Town.

Author Profile

Rasheed Shabazz is a multimedia storyteller, urban planning historian, and youth development professional based in the Bay Area. He is co-director of Oakland Voices. He recently completed his Masters of City and Regional Planning at UC Berkeley. 

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