Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín hosts virtual town hall to address COVID-19 updates, residents’ concerns

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Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín held a virtual town hall Saturday to address residents’ concerns and provide updates on the city’s actions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The town hall began at noon and was livestreamed through Arreguín’s website. Residents were asked to submit questions through a Google Form. The panel of city leaders speaking at the town hall included Arreguín, city manager Dee Williams-Ridley, city health officer Dr. Lisa Hernandez and city auditor Jenny Wong.

Arreguín began by introducing the panelists and thanking residents, city staff, front-line medical staff and first responders.

“I’m really proud of our community because we have really rallied together. We’re looking out for each other,” Arreguín said at the meeting. “We will get through this, and we will be even more stronger and resilient as a result.”

Hernandez said there have been 49 cases of COVID-19 and one death in Berkeley. Additionally, there have been 854 tests conducted on city residents, according to Hernandez.

She also briefly discussed the city’s efforts on contact tracing, a process during which an individual who tested positive for the coronavirus is interviewed for the purpose of identifying everyone they have been in recent contact with or could have potentially exposed. According to Hernandez, the individual is then isolated, and their exposed contacts are required to quarantine themselves.

Next, Williams-Ridley spoke about the city’s three main focuses: homelessness, how Berkeley will look post-COVID-19 and continuing services for the community.

“This is a new reality for us,” Hernandez said. “We will know that our operations will be different, how we interact with each other will remain to be different, especially because we do not have a vaccine.”

Wong then presented a report released earlier in the week and described the economic impacts of COVID-19 as “deep and long-lasting.” According to Wong, increased unemployment and the closure of local businesses and the UC Berkeley campus will have a significant impact on the city’s resources.

She also advised the city to have a long-term view in its planning.

“We are in a marathon and not a sprint,” Wong said at the meeting.

Arreguín, Hernandez and Williams-Ridley then answered the questions submitted by city residents.

One person asked about the city’s communication efforts with its residents. Several had concerns about homeless encampments in various areas throughout Berkeley. There were also many questions about COVID-19 testing, including how the city conducts contact tracing and whether the city would begin antibody testing.

“We have a lot to do — we know that,” Williams-Ridley said at the meeting. “We appreciate the support of the community.”

Contact Tarunika Kapoor at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @tkapoor_dc.