Berkeley city officials discuss new strain of COVID-19

Computer generated representation of COVID-19
The new strain of COVID-19 from the United Kingdom has recently reached the United States, with cases of the variant emerging throughout the state of California.

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Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín’s virtual town hall Monday provided COVID-19 updates, including information regarding the new strain of COVID-19 from the United Kingdom that has recently reached the United States.

The new coronavirus strain seems to be more contagious but not more lethal than the existing form of COVID-19, according to Berkeley health officer Dr. Lisa Hernandez. The new strain is not believed to cause increased complications from COVID-19 or impact individuals differently in any other way.

“This variant is highly contagious which makes the importance of staying at home, only leaving for essential business, practicing physical distancing and wearing a mask all the more important,” Arreguín said in an email. “With the risk of a potentially high contagious version of COVID-19, we need to be even more vigilant in our compliance with the Stay at Home order, in order to protect ourselves and our neighbors.”

Multiple cases of the COVID-19 variant have already been detected in Southern California. California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Monday that the state currently knows of four cases in San Diego and two cases in San Bernardino.

Although the new strain has not yet been reported in Northern California, Hernandez stressed that this does not mean the strain is not already present within Berkeley.

Arreguín said Berkeley has recently experienced the deaths of three residents due to COVID-19, raising the total city death count to 12. Hernandez added that Berkeley will likely witness a “surge on top of a surge” due to holiday travel.

However, Arreguín and Hernandez remain hopeful as vaccine distribution continues. Frontline workers will receive 1100 doses of the Moderna vaccine and 975 doses of the Pfizer vaccine as part of the Phase 1A allocation of the vaccine, according to city Health, Housing and Community Services director Lisa Warhuus.

Additionally, during the town hall, Hernandez said the vaccine appears to be protective against the new strain.

City officials are currently waiting for further guidance from the state regarding plans for implementing Phase 1B, which would distribute the vaccine to a much broader group. This phase would include vaccine distribution to individuals aged 75 and older and those involved in the education, food, agriculture and emergency services sectors.

Questions from Berkeley residents were addressed at the end of the meeting, including a question about the city’s ability to enforce public health guidelines. Deputy city manager David White said the city possesses the ability to impose fines on those violating public health guidelines, but enforcement focuses on large gatherings and is mostly complaint-driven.

“We can’t let our guard down,” Arreguín said during the town hall. “We have to continue to pull through this and be strong to get through these next few weeks and months because there’s light at the end of the tunnel, but we’re not out of the tunnel yet.”

Contact Serene Chang at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @_serenechang .