Berkeley city officials discuss declining COVID-19 rates, city response during town hall

Jessie Areguin
Lianne Frick/File
According to Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín, while Berkeley has seen significant progress in containing COVID-19, there are still concerns city officials are addressing, including the potential impact of the flu season during the pandemic.

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Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín hosted a virtual town hall Monday along with several city officials to discuss updates on the city’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to city health officer Dr. Lisa Hernandez, since the beginning of the pandemic, there have been 739 confirmed cases and nine deaths in Berkeley. Currently, the city has a 1.2% positivity rate and sees an average of one case per day, which is a decrease from the last town hall report’s average of three new cases per day, Hernandez added.

“These case rates and our test positivity trend downward not only for us but for Alameda County, which is great news for our city and our county,” Hernandez said during the meeting. “We’re also seeing the hospitalization rates continue to decline as well.”

The state of California is currently categorizing counties into four tiers based on case rates and test positivity rates, according to the state’s COVID-19 website. Alameda County recently moved into Tier 3, which indicates a moderate-level risk, Hernandez said during the meeting.

After moving into Tier 3, playgrounds were allowed to reopen Friday, Hernandez added. Elementary schools were allowed to reopen last week, and to provide support, the city has implemented a learning community composed of representatives from public and private schools that will meet weekly to share information and advice, according to Lisa Warhuus, director of the Health, Housing and Community Services Department, during the meeting.

Berkeley officials also hope to expand retail building capacity to 50% in the coming weeks, Hernandez said.

Additionally, the role of UC Berkeley was discussed during the town hall. According to Hernandez, the city considers the campus an “amazing partner” in the pandemic response.

“(UC Berkeley) for the very large part has managed to contain the disease, and they have worked to deal with some of the off-campus living,” Warhuus said during the meeting. “I think we need to be careful not to conflate the national narrative with what UC Berkeley is actually really trying to accomplish.”

While Berkeley has seen significant progress in containing COVID-19, there are still concerns city officials are addressing, including the potential impact of the flu season during the pandemic, Arreguín said during the meeting. According to Hernandez, the city has organized several pop-up clinics to provide vulnerable populations with the flu vaccine.

Another concern mentioned during the meeting was the holiday season. According to Warhuus, there has been a spike in cases after almost every holiday since the beginning of the pandemic.

As Halloween and Thanksgiving approach, residents should continue to follow social distancing guidelines while celebrating, she added.

“We need to continue to stay vigilant,” Arreguín said during the meeting. “We need to continue to follow our public health orders, to practice physical distancing, to wear your face coverings when you’re outside.”

Contact Kelly Suth at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @kellyannesuth.