Berkeley city officials encourage testing, facial coverings at town hall

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During Mayor Jesse Arreguín’s virtual town hall Saturday, Berkeley city officials discussed concerns about city operations, facial coverings and testing as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

Arreguín, city health officer Dr. Lisa Hernandez and City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley participated in the event.

Arreguín began by referencing the city’s significantly increased testing capacity due to the test site in South Berkeley — where he himself was tested. He encouraged all central workers and local residents to get tested, especially if they are symptomatic, and urged caution as the city looks toward reopening.

“It is important that as you go about the city, as you go to work, as you visit your local restaurants, that you do follow the directives to wear a face covering, to practice physical distancing,” Arreguín said at the meeting. “This is very important to help Berkeley control the spread of COVID-19.”

Hernandez reiterated the importance of staying home when sick, washing one’s hands and wearing a face covering to protect the community.

There are now 5,670 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Alameda County with 133 deaths; Berkeley has 145 confirmed cases with one death, as of press time. Hospitalization rates in Alameda County are lower than they were at the end of May, but continue to rise, while rates in Berkeley remain “pretty stable,” according to Hernandez.

Hernandez said 80% of the people tested at the new site either live or work in Berkeley. This brings the city’s average number of tests to 219 per day, which is 90% of the city’s testing goal.

“We are seeing more cases,” Hernandez said at the meeting. “They seem to continue to be in essential workers who are working, who don’t have the luxury to stay at home, and they’re spreading it in their households. ”

Next, Williams-Ridley discussed the basic services — including repairing sidewalks and taking care of parks — that the city is still carrying out. Most city facilities remain closed, while more critical facilities are by appointment only, according to Williams-Ridley.

Despite Berkeley not having reached its goal of providing shelter for all of its unhoused community, the city has partnered with Dignity on Wheels, which will provide showers to those who need them, Williams-Ridley added.

The city officials then proceeded to answer a variety of questions about the enforcement of facial coverings, the police investigation of UC Berkeley student Seth Smith’s death, the increase of cases and contact tracing.

“It’s been a long three months,” Arreguín said at the meeting. “I’m really proud of the work that our city organization has done, and our community, who’s really stepped up and taken this very seriously, and it’s making an impact.”

The next town hall is set to occur July 11.

Contact Tarunika Kapoor at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @tkapoor_dc.