Berkeley mayor hosts town hall to discuss COVID-19 updates, reopening

photo of Jesse Arreguin
Lianne Frick/File
Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín hosted a town hall where COVID-19 updates, the city’s plan for reopening and rental assistance questions were discussed.

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Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín hosted a town hall Monday to discuss COVID-19 updates, the city’s plan for reopening and rental assistance questions. 

Arreguín began the town hall by updating Berkeley residents on the status of vaccinations.

“We are making great progress in vaccinating Berkeley residents,” Arreguín said during the town hall. “We are continuing to make sure that every resident gets vaccinated so that we can bring case rates down and safely reopen our community.”

Berkeley health officer Dr. Lisa Hernandez said the city now averages about two cases per day with 126 current hospitalizations. Test positivity is at 0.27%, compared to the county’s overall 1.1% test positivity, Hernandez added. Lastly, 65% of those ages 16 and older have been fully vaccinated.

Despite the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s announcement that fully vaccinated individuals are no longer required to wear face coverings in most settings, Hernandez said the city would continue with current California mask guidelines until June 15, as many are still unvaccinated.

“We need to continue to be cautious and keep our physical distance and wear face coverings when required,” Hernandez said during the town hall. “It’s just that we’re not there yet allowing everyone to go unmasked all the time because we don’t know who’s vaccinated and who’s not.”

Berkeley city manager Dee Williams-Ridley noted that by the end of this week, the Berkeley Public Library intends to announce reopening plans for three locations. Williams-Ridley added that the city has no intention of mandating vaccinations for city employees, but is still encouraging them.

The city has also been working closely with the Berkeley Unified School District to discuss reopening schools in the fall, Williams-Ridley said.

“The school district is very excited to offer in-person classes,” Williams-Ridley said during the town hall. “They have seen the impacts to children who have been at home learning.”

Berkeley Health, Housing and Community Services director Lisa Warhuus added that the city has worked with middle and high schools to set up vaccination sites.

For those worried about summer travel, Hernandez said the best defense is to get vaccinated, as vaccines also protect against COVID-19 variants.

While the state government will not institute vaccine passports, private businesses may ask patrons to show proof of vaccination, according to Hernandez. Proof may take the form of doctors’ notes or photocopies of the original vaccination card.

Arreguín also answered questions regarding rental assistance. The city’s Housing Retention Program has helped close to 500 households to date, according to Arreguín. To help small businesses, Arreguín cited the Berkeley Relief Fund, which had provided $3 million in initial funds to support small businesses that were struggling to stay open.

“Where we are is attributable to the resilience of our Berkeley community,” Williams-Ridley said during the town hall. “Your patience has kept us driving forward.”

Contact Christopher Ying at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter at @ChrisYingg.