City officials discuss COVID-19 developments as Berkeley moves to reopen

Jesse Areguin
Ireland Wagner/File

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During Mayor Jesse Arreguín’s virtual town hall Saturday, Berkeley city officials discussed the prospect of easing shelter-in-place orders and various issues facing Berkeley residents as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

The town hall included Arreguín, city manager Dee Williams-Ridley and city health officer Dr. Lisa Hernandez. Residents submitted their questions using a form on Arreguín’s website for the three officials to answer.

Arreguín began the town hall by acknowledging the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minn., expressing his condolences to Floyd’s family. The mayor added that the country must continue to fight both racism and COVID-19.

Throughout the town hall, all three officials discussed how the COVID-19 pandemic specifically affects communities of color and low-income areas of Berkeley. Arreguín noted that the 94703 zip code, which is mainly in South Berkeley, has been hit the hardest by the pandemic.

“It is no surprise to me and health officers and health care providers that we are seeing an increase in cases in the communities of color,” Hernandez said at the event. “We continue to focus on providing outreach to those communities and plan to redirect some of our testing into those communities.”

Hernandez also discussed the five indicators — number of COVID-19 cases; capacity of hospitals; effective testing; sufficient investigation, contact tracing and quarantine capacity and availability of personal protective equipment, or PPE — the city is tracking as it progresses to reopening.

So far, Berkeley has not met its goals of flattening or decreasing cases and hospitalizations, reaching ideal testing capacity or providing PPE for all health care facilities, Hernandez added.

“We will relax, but we are going to do it cautiously,” Hernandez said at the event.

Arreguín added that Berkeley is working to ease restrictions “thoughtfully” to avoid a surge in COVID-19 cases.

When asked about increases in various types of crime, Williams-Ridley noted that although the overall violent crime rate is down by about 16%, grand and petty theft rates have increased by about 12% and property crime rates have risen by nearly 9%.

Williams-Ridley also updated the public on the city’s homeless outreach efforts, saying Berkeley has added handwashing stations and port-a-potties throughout the city. She added that the city is currently working to develop a “pump-out” station for recreational vehicle waste in response to a question about the increased prevalence of homelessness in the city.

The officials also urged people to wear face coverings. Arreguín noted earlier in the meeting that face coverings will continue to be mandatory in public.

“It is something that requires us to adjust to but something we are going to have to do for the time being,” Arreguín said at the event.

A virtual town hall will be held every other week, and citizens will be able to submit questions for city officials to answer.

Sebastian Cahill is a deputy news editor. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @SebastianCahil1.