Berkeley hosts town hall to discuss delta variant, health order

photo of 2 people at a vaccination center
Andrew Huang/Staff
Monday's town hall meeting addressed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's updates to its masking guidelines and city vaccination efforts.

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Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín hosted a town hall Monday to provide updates on the COVID-19 pandemic and the delta variant, as well as to answer questions about the health order requiring masks in indoor public spaces.

Joining Arreguín were Berkeley health officer Dr. Lisa Hernandez and acting city manager Paul Buddenhagen. All three speakers emphasized the importance of vaccines and masking to control the spread of COVID-19, and in particular, the more aggressive delta variant.

“This is essentially a new virus that we’re dealing with here,” Hernandez said at the town hall. “We need to have multiple layers of protection.”

The delta variant, now the dominant strain in the Bay Area, is especially concerning because it appears to replicate faster in humans, according to Caesar Djavaherian, co-founder and chief clinical innovation officer of Carbon Health. Djavaherian added that it is a “very dangerous virus” for unvaccinated people, but on the rare occasion vaccinated people contract it, they are largely protected from hospitalization and death.

In Alameda County, unvaccinated people account for nearly 100% of hospitalizations, according to Hernandez. In addition, the number of hospitalizations is nearly two and a half times greater than in mid-June. Hernandez added that for the city of Berkeley, the test positivity rate has more than tripled since last month.

She also clarified that the vaccination rate for Berkeley, currently 69% for people ages 12 years and older, is an underestimate because it does not include vaccinated UC Berkeley students. Vaccination data from campus should be available to the city by the end of the week, according to Hernandez.

“The best tools are in front of us already which includes getting everyone vaccinated as soon as possible,” Hernandez said in the town hall. “That’s what we’re focusing on at this point.”

During the town hall, speakers also answered questions from residents, with some concerning the new health order that requires all individuals to wear masks in indoor public spaces.

The order mirrors the updated guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that recommend indoor public masking regardless of vaccination status, according to the CDC website. In addition, the CDC recommends that fully vaccinated individuals be tested for the virus three to five days after they are exposed to someone with “suspected or confirmed” COVID-19.

In the meantime, Berkeley is not currently considering a vaccine mandate, but all three speakers added that they would support businesses that choose to require vaccines for employees and patrons.

“Where we need to focus our energy and attention are on the unvaccinated,” Arreguín said in the town hall. “This is the individual collective action that we can take to combat the delta variant to fight COVID-19 and to move our community out of this deadly pandemic.”

Contact Riley Cooke at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @rrileycooke.