Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín held a virtual town hall Friday to update the public on the coronavirus and answer questions from constituents.
Arreguín, along with city manager Dee Williams-Ridley and Berkeley’s public health officer Dr. Lisa Hernandez, addressed questions that were previously submitted by residents and covered topics from health advice to city action. During the meeting, Williams-Ridley reported that Berkeley’s testing site is operating on an appointment-only basis for specific groups, including first responders. Hernandez expanded upon social distancing recommendations, adding that all people should wear masks when in public.
“You have to anticipate that no matter where you are that you are not going to be able to maintain social distancing for a good amount of time,” Hernandez said during the meeting.
Hernandez also expressed approval at the fact that travel has dropped by about 40% to 50%, as reported by Caltrans. While the curve is not yet flat, the rates are slowing down, she added.
Additionally, Hernandez reported that there are 38 confirmed cases in Berkeley and that there has been one confirmed death. She added that eight individuals have been hospitalized, five of whom are in need of intensive care, and she also observed that people who are currently sick are more ill than those previously infected.
In response to a question about what the city is doing for the homeless community, Williams-Ridley said new shelters are in place and hotels are being used to enable proper social distancing.
Although no members of Berkeley’s homeless community have tested positive for COVID-19, the city wants to be prepared.
“We take the issues of the (homeless community) very seriously, just as we take the health and safety of the housed very seriously,” Arreguín said during the meeting.
In terms of penal responses to those who are not following the shelter-in-place order, Williams-Ridley, who hopes for voluntary adherence, advocated against arrests, as not complying with the shelter-in-place order is a misdemeanor.
When asked about the different types of COVID-19 testing, Hernandez said swab testing is the only test approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and the antibody test is still in the works.
Arreguín also updated the public on the status of the Berkeley Relief Fund, which has raised more than $681,000 and has received 1,058 applications for the small business fund.
“The need is significant,” Arreguín said during the meeting. “Every dollar you give will be able to help as many small businesses stay in operation, so after this crisis happens, we can either go to a favorite restaurant or café and that we can continue to be the amazing, dynamic city that we are.”