Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín hosts virtual town hall to discuss COVID-19

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Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín hosted a virtual town hall Saturday to discuss updated information regarding the city’s response to COVID-19, colloquially known as the coronavirus, and address community members’ questions.

City officials including city manager Dee Williams-Ridley, public health officer Dr. Lisa Hernandez and multiple Berkeley City Council members joined the call to provide information and comment on local efforts made in response to the pandemic. Some of the topics discussed include testing availability, public space closures and relief funding.

During the call, Arreguín discussed the relief fund that City Council launched to provide support for local businesses, arts organizations and residential tenants who are struggling economically as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re calling on all of our residents to contribute to help grow this fund so we can help as many local businesses and residents as possible,” Arreguín said during the event. “We know that the economic impacts of this pandemic are significant and will last beyond the shelter-in-place order.”

Each individual applicant can receive a grant of up to $10,000. Applications and specific criteria for those who may be eligible to receive funds will be released on March 30, according to Arreguín.

In addition to the relief fund, the city has implemented a moratorium on evictions, stipulating that tenants cannot be evicted from their homes for failing to pay rent as a result of any preventative measures taken in response to the pandemic. Currently, 19 Berkeley residents have been confirmed to have tested positive for COVID-19 and Alameda County has 204 confirmed cases, according to Hernandez.

While Berkeley residents can get tested for COVID-19 through local primary care providers, testing in these facilities is still limited. The city is looking into establishing a “Berkeley-specific testing site” for the general public to accommodate the need for more tests, according to Hernandez.

Multiple Council members joined the call to comment on the city’s response to the pandemic, as well as on how the community can assist local caregivers.

“The nurses at Alta Bates reached out to my office just yesterday asking for help,” said City Councilmember Ben Bartlett during the event. “They need shoe coverings. They need N95 masks. They need isolation robes. You know, they need it all.”

The city has set up a webpage to track personal protective equipment donations, according to City Councilmember Lori Droste.

There will likely be more virtual town halls in the future, according to Arreguín.

“I am proud of our staff at the city of Berkeley and the people of Berkeley for everything that they’ve been doing to respond to this crisis,” Arreguín said during the event. “At the end of the day, our focus is saving lives, supporting our local businesses, supporting our nonprofits and supporting our residents during this difficult time.”

Contact Emma Rooholfada at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @erooholfada_dc.