Berkeley officials discuss COVID-19 cases, vaccinations during virtual town hall

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Eliana Marcu/Staff
During a virtual town hall hosted by Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín, Berkeley officials discussed various ways in which the city has been responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. Topics discussed included vaccine rollouts, health care and the city’s future amid the pandemic.

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A series of questions regarding vaccinations, health care and Berkeley’s future amid the COVID-19 pandemic were answered during Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín’s virtual town hall Monday.

During the town hall, Arreguín was joined by Dr. Lisa Hernandez, Berkeley health officer; Paul Buddenhagen, acting city manager; and Lisa Warhuus, director of the city’s Health, Housing and Community Services Department. Each gave updates in their respective areas of expertise.

According to Hernandez’s update on COVID-19 case numbers, there is an average of 970 tests taken per day in Berkeley, with the test positivity rate at 1.8% as of last week. Although the city case rate is higher than the county’s due to increased campus cases, she added, there is now a “hopeful” downward trend in cases after UC Berkeley’s two-week shelter in place.

“We know the virus is still widespread, and we need to continue to have those rates go down and hope we don’t have any more surges,” Hernandez said during the town hall. “As long as people continue to do what we’ve been doing to slow the spread by wearing face coverings, practicing social distancing and avoiding gatherings, we’ll continue to see the case rate go down.”

The city is also addressing the seven campus Greek houses with cases by sending letters reminding them of their responsibility to isolate and refrain from throwing parties, as well as the possibility of issuing citations.

Buddenhagen outlined the city’s vaccination effort that has been ongoing since December, which includes vaccinating transitional kindergarten to second-grade teachers this week to encourage a possible in-person fall education. Warhuus noted that Berkeley Unified School District is an independent entity and will make its own decisions with support from the city.

Most city services, including emergency services, are operated remotely, according to Buddenhagen. He said city officials are beginning to discuss reopening plans for city buildings.

“Things still continue to work in the city of Berkeley despite being remote,” Buddenhagen said during the town hall. “It will be very interesting to see how when we transition back to a more normal world how we change and reconfigure based on the things we’ve learned about remote work.”

In response to a question about “end-of-the-day” lists, referring to leftover vaccines that need to be distributed to avoid wasting doses, Warhuus explained that the city’s highest priority is getting in-tier individuals vaccinated. She added that “under no circumstances” will the city waste vaccines.

In regards to the details of double-masking, Hernandez advised wearing a cloth mask over a surgical mask, adding that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not recommend wearing two surgical masks at once. The important thing is to make sure the mask fits correctly by using ties and mask fitters, according to Hernandez.

“I’m heartened to know that on the local level and on the national level, we have leaders that are prioritizing science and the health and safety of the communities,” Arreguín said during the meeting. “With the vaccine being rolled out and more vaccines on the way, I am hopeful for the future.”

Contact Dina Katgara at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @dinakatgara.