City of Berkeley works to expand testing capacity, lower activity restrictions

Photo of UC Berkeley and the city of Berkeley
Lianne Frick/File
The city of Berkeley has multiple testing centers and introduced a pilot mouth-swab testing program with the testing company Curative Inc. The Curative site, however, has suspended its operations, as poor air quality from the fires affected the outdoor location.

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The city of Berkeley is working to expand its testing capacity and implement a new shelter-in-place order amid the COVID-19 pandemic, as discussed by city officials in a town hall Saturday.

The city of Berkeley’s case count and death count have increased over the past month, bringing the total to 484 positive cases and six deaths. According to city health officer Dr. Lisa Hernandez, the city of Berkeley’s case rates peaked in early to mid-July.

“To address (the pandemic), we need your help, we need your partnership,” said Mayor Jesse Arreguín. “We need to come together as a community and address this together, for the safety of ourselves and the safety of our neighbors.”

The city is above its testing target, with a seven-day average of 354 tests per day and a total of more than 26,960 tests reported on Berkeley residents since the beginning of the pandemic. The current percent positive of tests is 1.95%, a .25 percentage point decrease over the past month.

Hernandez said the number of tests and percent positive cases are used by the city to track community transmission.

The city has multiple testing centers and introduced a pilot mouth-swab testing program with the testing company Curative Inc.

The Curative site has suspended its operations, as poor air quality from the fires affected the outdoor location. Hernandez said the city is working with Curative to resume the pilot program.

Deputy City Manager Paul Buddenhagen added that the city is discussing making the pilot site a permanent option with Curative. This would allow the city to transition one of its other COVID-19 test sites to a mobile site and reach communities currently without access to testing, according to Buddenhagen.

“We’re looking to try to make there be additional opportunities for testing, whether it is with Curative or other partners,” Hernandez said during the meeting. “We’re always looking to ensure that we have adequate testing in our community.”

In addition to the testing sites, the new shelter-in-place order announced Friday was a prevailing topic of discussion.

After six weeks with the previous shelter-in-place order, outdoor personal care services, vehicle-based entertainment, small in-person outdoor sports practices, wine tasting and outdoor pools will be allowed to resume operations with restrictions. The new order also expands the size of social bubbles for children from 12 to 15, allowing child care providers to accommodate more children.

“Our plan is to do things outdoors first because we know that is where it is safer,” Hernandez said during the event. “We delayed the effective date because we know that our air quality in our jurisdictions are poor because of the fires.”

The new shelter-in-place order will go into effect Aug. 28, although city-owned pools will not resume operations until mid-September due to certification and staffing delays.

Contact Kate Finman at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @KateFinman_DC.