Berkeley city officials talk ways to ensure mask compliance, return to in-person instruction

Photo of Jesse Arreguin
Lianne Frick/File
According to Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín, Berkeley residents will be able to pick up "Mask on, move on" posters at Berkeley City Hall, libraries and grocery stores.

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During Tuesday’s virtual town hall, Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín spoke about finding a balance between enforcement and encouragement when it comes to ensuring Berkeley residents wear masks to protect the community from COVID-19 transmission.

To enforce the use of masks, Berkeley City Council members have proposed an ordinance that would allow city officials to fine residents who are not in compliance with state and local face-covering requirements. The City Council will vote on the item at its next meeting Sept. 15.

While Arreguín expressed his support for the ordinance at the town hall, he said he would prefer for the power to be used “judiciously” if it is approved.

Arreguín added that he would rather focus on voluntary compliance by encouraging people to wear masks through the distribution of posters across the city with the slogan, “Mask on, move on.”

“While we are focusing on the enforcement piece, we also really want to continue to encourage and press upon our community the importance of wearing your mask, so that we can move on as a community beyond this pandemic and to keep our neighbors and our community safe,” Arreguín said during the town hall.

The city worked with the same artist as it did for the 2017 “Berkeley United Against Hate” campaign to create the “Mask on, move on” posters, Arreguín added. Thousands of posters will be available to residents at Berkeley City Hall, libraries and grocery stores. The slogan will also be posted on banners in the city’s commercial districts.

City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley joined Arreguín at the town hall and spoke at length about the work the city is doing to try to expand the in-person child care and schooling it offers for Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, families. Williams-Ridley said if the district receives a state waiver for in-person instruction for grades K-6, the city is considering allowing BUSD to hold classes at local parks if it can structure classes in a way that is compliant with public health recommendations.

Williams-Ridley added that in-person outdoor teaching would only happen if the district has enough staff to teach each small cohort of students and if weather conditions are suitable for outdoor learning. She added that the city has already pinpointed locations where outdoor, in-person instruction could take place if and when these requirements are met.

Arreguín acknowledged that home and distance learning is difficult for families and is supporting BUSD’s efforts to implement some form of in-person instruction down the line. Williams-Ridley echoed these sentiments, adding that Berkeley residents are “resilient” for facing pandemic-, wildfire- and smoke-related threats all at once.

“The seriousness of all of these three major crises convening on us as a city will take our absolute attention,” Williams-Ridley said. “We will certainly remain focused on COVID, as well as our support to our community around wildfires and preparedness around public safety power shutoffs.”

Contact Rachel Barber at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @rachelbarber_.