City officials address status of COVID-19 in Berkeley during virtual town hall

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Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín held a town hall meeting Saturday to go over the status of COVID-19 testing in Berkeley and answer questions from constituents regarding what is allowed under the current shelter-in-place order.

City manager Dee Williams-Ridley joined the mayor in advising the public on outdoor activity restrictions, especially given the increased desire to go out and meet with others during the Memorial Day weekend. City health officer Lisa Hernandez gave an update on the status of the skilled nursing facility that reported a case Monday.

“We’re working with the facilities to make sure their plans are together,” Hernandez said during the event. “We know when there is a positive case, staff get worried and may not come to work, so we want to make sure they have contingency plans and make sure that their staff is safe.”

Hernandez said there were two confirmed cases of COVID-19 within that skilled nursing facility, but no one else within the facility tested positive. One of the COVID-19 patients was moved to a hospital facility, while the other is isolated within the facility, according to Hernandez. Those who came in contact with them have been quarantined.

City public health officials began testing for COVID-19 at skilled nursing facilities earlier this month and are about 40% of the way through, according to Hernandez. After that, they will be teaching the staff to conduct the testing for early warning surveillance.

There are now 85 confirmed cases and one death in the city. Available testing has gone up 22% from last week, which is why the number of positive cases has risen, according to Hernandez.

In regards to the city’s progress toward reaching the five indicators needed for reopening, including decreased hospitalizations and sufficient access to personal protective equipment, Hernandez said the city is not expecting to reach the indicators fully before relaxing restrictions further. Instead, the city is monitoring how these indicators change over time to see the impacts of easing restrictions, Hernandez added.

“It’s not an all-or-nothing type approach when we’re looking at these indicators,” Hernandez said during the event. “It’s not like we have to meet a certain threshold, but we do have to make progress.”

During the meeting, Williams-Ridley introduced a healthy and safe streets program from the city’s transportation department that includes permanent reflector signs on streets. She added that the city is teaming up with Walk Bike Berkeley and plans to keep the program going even after the shelter-in-place order is lifted. More information will come Tuesday, according to Williams-Ridley.

Arreguín mentioned his proposal to make use of public spaces for outside dining. He said it will be taken to City Council on June 2 and encouraged feedback.

“We have a civic responsibility to follow these directives, and many people have taken very seriously the requirement to shelter in place and some haven’t,” Arreguín said during the meeting. “We all, as a community, have to come together for the health and safety of Berkeley.”

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