Berkeley mayor talks extended shelter-in-place order, testing at virtual town hall

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Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín discussed the city’s stay-at-home order extension and testing accessibility at his latest COVID-19 update town hall Saturday. 

City health officer Dr. Lisa Hernandez said during the meeting’s livestream that Berkeley has had 53 cases and one death related to the coronavirus. The number of cases signifies a 4.6% positivity rate in the city, with 1,152 Berkeley residents tested. The town hall came two days prior to the implementation of the new shelter-in-place order, which will stay in effect until May 31.

Hernandez added that the city may lift the order before May 31 depending on how the following weeks unfold.

“We are looking at the impact of this order day by day,” Hernandez said during the event. “We are looking at the impact all the time.”

The city is allowing some nonessential work to resume under the new order, including construction projects, real estate transactions and extended child care services

With construction allowed to move forward under the new order, Timothy Burroughs, Berkeley’s planning and development director, said there will be new mandates at project sites to keep workers safe.

Small sites will now require a new supervisor, whose job is specifically to ensure safety protocols in regard to the disease are followed, according to Burroughs. He added that larger sites will need a location-specific health and safety plan, a safety compliance officer and a third-party safety accountability supervisor. He added that both site types will need adequate social distancing measures, facial coverings and hand-washing stations to resume construction.

City child care services are also being extended to nonessential workers who have been approved to return to work under the new order, according to Berkeley City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley.

As of Monday, Hernandez said, any Berkeley resident or worker with COVID-19 symptoms can receive a test free of charge, regardless of insurance. She added that the city hopes to expand this service to asymptomatic individuals in the coming weeks.

Additionally, Hernandez said the city will pilot a new surveillance testing program this week, in which all residents and staff at skilled nursing facilities will receive COVID-19 tests, regardless of whether or not they have symptoms.

Arreguín said he is also beginning to consider the economic ramifications of the initial and extended shelter-in-place orders on the upcoming city budget. He added that the city expects to see a $25.5 million deficit.

One silver lining to the pandemic is that the city of Berkeley’s coordinated response and success with activating the its emergency operations center shows Berkeley is capable of handling emergency situations, according to Arreguín. 

“How we have responded as a city organization to this emergency, I think, has made us even more prepared to respond to other emergencies that may occur in our community,” Arreguín said during the event.

Contact Rachel Barber at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @rachelbarber_.