Berkeley town hall meeting discusses indicators needed for reopening

Jessie Areguin
Lianne Frick/File

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Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín hosted a virtual town hall meeting Saturday to discuss the city’s progress dealing with COVID-19 and to answer questions from citizens about the city’s transition to reopening.

Arreguín and Lisa Hernandez, the city public health officer, emphasized the importance of using five indicators —  the total number of cases decreasing, hospital capacity increasing, sufficient viral tests, contact tracing and enough equipment for all health care providers — to judge the status of the virus’s impact in the Bay Area. These indicators and the state of California’s guidance will be how officials know when to begin opening up again.

“We are discussing — not just internally within the city organization, I know our regional health officers are discussing as well — how to plan a transition out of the shelter-in-place order and to start easing some of the restrictions on certain types of businesses,” Arreguín said during the event. “We are not going to rush into it, but make decisions that are thoughtful based on the data.”

Hernandez gave an update that 1,418 tests have been taken, and reported 4.6% of them have tested positive for COVID-19. She said there are about 39 tests taken a day, but there needs to be 240 tests a day in order to meet the indicator before considering reopening.

Hernandez added that there is a bilingual nurse screening line available from Monday to Friday that citizens can call if they want to know more about testing and COVID-19. There are also task forces assisting vulnerable populations in dealing with the virus.

Dee Williams-Ridley, the city manager, said if a citizen is out in Berkeley and needs a mask, they should approach a police officer as they are required to have masks on hand to give to those who need one.

In reference to Sunday being Mother’s Day, however, Hernandez made it clear that if citizens do not live with their mothers, they should not break the shelter-in-place order to visit them. She recommended using FaceTime and dropping notes at the door to celebrate the holiday and honor mothers while still being safe.

Williams-Ridley also thanked frontline city workers and said the Emergency Operations Center, or the EOC, is fully operational. There are resources available for citizens and businesses on the EOC’s website to help them spread awareness on safety such as downloadable signages with COVID-19 precautions.

“Although Berkeley and the Bay Area region have not yet met the local indicators for relaxing the shelter-in-place orders, businesses can review the state guidelines and start thinking about eventually reopening,” Wiliams-Ridley said during the event. “This will help us in creating a Berkeley-specific plan as we move forward.”

Contact Dina Katgara at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @dinakatgara.