Berkeley officials discuss racial disparities in health

Jessie Arreguin
Lianne Frick/File

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In light of the national Black Lives Matter movement, Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín’s regular Saturday town hall on COVID-19 was dominated by discussion of the racial disparities that exist in the city of Berkeley.

According to Berkeley health officer Dr. Lisa Hernandez, the city of Berkeley has had 113 COVID-19 cases with one death, compared to its 93 cases two weeks ago. She added that Alameda County has had about 4,100 positive cases and 108 deaths.

When analyzing the case data by race, Hernandez said the city of Berkeley does not have enough cases to make this breakdown feasible. But, she added that Alameda County numbers are statistically similar to Berkeley’s — in the county, Latinx people make up about 47% of COVID-19 cases, while only making up about 22% of the population.

White people make up about 11% of cases and 32% of the population, and Black people make up about 8% of the COVID-19 cases and about 11% of the population in Alameda County, according to Hernandez.

She added that a majority of the population who have contracted COVID-19 are essential workers.

The racial disparities in health go far beyond COVID-19, Arreguín said. He added that people of color and residents of South and West Berkeley are most affected by having shortened life spans, less access to health care and other health consequences.

“We know, sadly, that even in our own city that there are many families that are being left behind,” Arreguín said at the meeting. “Systemic racism is real in Berkeley.”

In addition to racial inequities, the city’s plan to reopen further was discussed, with focus paid especially toward the logistics of loosening the restrictions.

Despite increasing the types of activities that are allowed, Arreguín, Hernandez and Berkeley City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley all stressed that people should continue to follow other health guidelines, including wearing face coverings and engaging in physical distancing.

“We are truly asking and pleading: wear your facial coverings,” Williams-Ridley said during the event. “We want to ensure that we can open up, you know, very data-driven and in a good way, so the best that we can do is to use social distancing and also wear the face coverings.”

The topic of race and policing also came up briefly at the end of the meeting, during which Arreguín said he was not considering abolishing the police department, but predicts that funding will be cut from the police during the budget allocation process.

He added that he hopes to increase investment in community services, including mental health support and homeless resources, despite a budget shortfall.

“There is a need to have police to provide certain essential safety functions in our community,” Arreguín said during the event. “That does not mean that we cannot and should not improve the way we do public safety in our community.”

The mayor will be hosting another COVID-19 town hall June 27, in addition to a town hall on race and policing.

Kate Finman is the executive news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @KateFinman_DC.