Community takes measures to prevent further spread of COVID-19

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Communitywide preparations are underway after the first case of COVID-19, a coronavirus that has been spreading across the globe, has been confirmed in Berkeley, according to a Tuesday press release from the city.

According to the release, the infected resident returned to Berkeley on Feb. 23 from one of the “growing number of countries with a COVID-19 outbreak,” and stayed at home in self-imposed isolation due to concerns of exposing others to the virus. This is the third confirmed case in Alameda County after two Solano County health care workers were diagnosed Monday.

“While the risk of infection remains low, the expanded presence of the virus in our community is a reality we should all prepare for,” said city of Berkeley health officer Dr. Lisa Hernandez in the press release. “There are steps that all of us in the community can take now to improve basic hygiene and also prepare for a wider spread in the future.”

Residents should continue washing hands often with soap and water, staying home when ill and covering coughs with tissues or elbows, according to the press release.

In addition to these immediate measures, the press release expressed the increasing need for “social distancing” and included suggestions of forgoing handshakes and the possibility of the cancellation of community events. According to city spokesperson Matthai Chakko, at the “very extreme level,” these measures could include the possibility of closing schools.

According to a statement released by Mayor Jesse Arreguín on Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not recommend wearing a mask unless you are ill or will engage in close contact with infected individuals.

“Because of the way we are seeing this virus spread, we also need different parts of our community to prepare for a much wider spread of this virus,” Chakko said.

Large community organizations such as UC Berkeley and AC Transit are also taking steps to prepare for the potential spread of the disease and raise awareness.

According to a campuswide email sent Monday, UC Berkeley has no confirmed cases of the disease but is taking action to prepare for any possible case. Campus has activated its Emergency Operations Center, which gathers operational leaders from various campus units to share information and develop contingency plans. UC Berkeley is also continuing meetings of its Crisis Management Team, which began two months ago, according to the email.

The email included a preparation checklist for students to reference, outlining students’ academic responsibilities in the case of a campus closure. The list includes clarifying communication methods with instructors and being ready to use alternative tools to aid in instructional continuity, such as Zoom.

“We are focused on ensuring the health and safety of our campus community,” read the email. “We understand and empathize with the anxiety many are feeling about the novel coronavirus and we are committed to providing regular updates.”

Campus also sent an email to faculty, instructors and graduate student instructors Monday regarding instructional accommodations in the event that students, staff or instructors are infected. The message advises instructors to follow steps recommended by the Instructional Resilience Task Force, including using the gradebook facility in bCourses and setting up provisions for standby instructors.

AC Transit is also applying methods to prevent further spread of the disease, according to a Monday press release. AC Transit has begun to sanitize coaches at the close of service, sanitize AC Transit facilities and supply hand sanitizer dispensers at all facilities to protect its riders and employees.

“Even with this first confirmed case, the Public Health Division has announced that the current risk to the general public in Berkeley of getting COVID-19 is low,” Arreguín said in the statement.

Contact Sabrina Dong at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @sabrina_dong_.