March 15, 2020

Dear Neighbor,

The state and the City of Berkeley have issued updated guidance (detailed below) intended to slow the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). As this public health emergency continues, I know that many of us are experiencing anxiety and worry (particularly high-risk populations), some of us are experiencing a loss of income, and our small businesses and community organizations are struggling. Further below, I’ve provided information on resources that may be of assistance. This is a rapidly-evolving situation, and I will do my best to keep you informed of the latest information and resources.

The nature of this global pandemic reminds us that the actions of one person can have ripple effects that impact others. While the news headlines can easily induce panic, we must remain fact-based and focused on the things within our control. To date, the Alameda County Public Health Department is reporting seven detected cases of COVID-19 , with two of the seven due to “community spread,” or, infection resulting from contact in the community. Three of the seven cases are Berkeley residents—including a traveler to Italy and two people from the Grand Princess Cruise ship, all of whom have been in isolation. 

Because the virus is so new, there are no approved medications nor a vaccine to treat it. The most important thing we can do is to continue to practice good hygiene:
  • Wash your hands often with liquid soap and water and rub for at least 20 seconds.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
  • Refrain from touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer when soap and water aren’t available. Look for one with at least 60% alcohol or make your own.
  • Avoid contact with people who are sick and stay home when you are sick.
  • Get a flu shot to protect yourself and others from the flu, which has similar symptoms to COVID-19.
  • People who are well and healthy do not need to wear a face mask to protect themselves from respiratory illnesses. A face mask can be worn by those who are coughing or sneezing to protect others from getting sick.

Know the Symptoms of COVID-19 . Patients with confirmed COVID-19 infection have experienced mild to severe respiratory illness with symptoms such as fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Similar to influenza, it appears to cause less severe illness in younger people; those with more severe impacts tend to be older, medically-fragile individuals with underlying medical conditions.

How to Handle the Shortage of COVID-19 Tests . For a number of reasons reported in the press , there is currently a national shortage in the availability of COVID-19 tests. I find this to be an unconscionable failure of our federal government, and I had the opportunity to say as much when I asked a question about testing availability during a White House briefing call on COVID-19 on March 12. I later spoke to officials at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services who said that more tests are becoming available and more testing labs are coming online. This information was confirmed by California Governor Gavin Newsom during his COVID-19 press conference , also on March 12.

In light of this situation, here is what our City of Berkeley Health Officer Dr. Lisa Hernandez recommends: Not everyone with symptoms needs to be tested for COVID-19. Those who have mild cold or flu symptoms should stay home. There are no approved medications nor a vaccine for COVID-19 and going to a hospital could expose you or others to illness. If your symptoms worsen or you have concerns, call your primary care doctor.    
Updated City and State Guidance to "Flatten the Curve" 
Our Health Officer Dr. Hernandez recommends that Berkeley residents follow the guidance of the California Department of Public Health in order to “flatten the curve” and help ensure sufficient hospital capacity for the sickest patients:
High-risk populations include people who are 60 and older (with risk increasing with age; individuals who are 80+ are considered highest risk) and those with underlying health conditions (severely weakened immune systems, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, or chronic lung diseases like COPD). The Governor issued a directive today for adults 65 and older and those with underlying health conditions to practice home isolation.

It is recommended that the following types of gatherings be cancelled or postponed :
  • Any gathering of more than 250 people.
  • Any smaller gathering of less than 250 people that does not allow for six feet of space between people.
  • Gatherings of 10 or more people who are 60 and older and/or who have underlying health conditions.

In general, follow these guidelines when it comes to gatherings:
  • Size: Smaller is better. The risk of getting the virus increases as the size of the crowd increases.
  • Duration: Shorter is better. The risk of getting the virus increases as the duration of the event increases (e.g., a two-hour meeting is lower risk than a two-day conference).
  • Density: Risk of getting the virus increases in crowded settings. If the venue or setting doesn’t enable people to keep social distance (more than arm’s length of one another), the risk of spreading the virus increases. People should avoid crowded places where large numbers of people are within arm’s length of one another. Today's directive from the Governor calls on bars and nightclubs to close and for restaurants to reduce their maximum occupancy by half to practice appropriate social distancing.
  • Geographic reach: Mixing of people across regions, states, and countries currently raises risk.
BUSD Schools to Close Until Mon., April 6
In a message to the Berkeley community on March 12, Superintendent Brent Stephens announced the closure of all Berkeley public schools to slow the spread of COVID-19. He wrote: “Today’s announcement of  four new coronavirus cases in Alameda County , two of which are the county’s first cases of community-acquired transmission, added to our concerns. I have been deeply touched by the overwhelming concern I hear in our community about protecting our most vulnerable individuals from the coronavirus. We hope that this step will support the regional effort to slow the spread of coronavirus in our area.” 

Talk To Your Children . Media coverage of COVID-19 can raise fears, especially for children. NPR created a comic for school-aged children about COVID-19 which you might want to share with your family:

School meals are available from March 16 through March 27. The BUSD Nutrition Department is serving free breakfast and lunch as take-away meals for school-age children  18 and younger:

8–9:30 a.m. for Breakfast & 11 a.m.–1:00 p.m. for Lunch at King Middle School, 1781 Rose St.  There will be a tent set up outside of the central kitchen at King (enter behind the school at Grant/Rose through the gate).
9:00–9:30 a.m. for Breakfast & 12–12:30 p.m. for Lunch at the following locations:
  • Berkeley Arts Magnet, 2015 Virginia St.
  • Rosa Parks, 920 Allston Way
  • Longfellow, 1500 Derby St.
  • Willard, 2425 Stuart St.
  • Berkeley High, 1980 Allston Way
Berkeley Public Libraries to Close Beginning Mon., March 16
Today, it was announced that all Berkeley Public Libraries will close to the public effective Mon., March 16.
Library staff are  available by phone  during  business hours  to answer questions and to support the use of the  Library's online collections and resources . You can access a wide array of materials via your smartphone, tablet, computer or smart TV, such as: e-books , audio-books , newspapers , e-magazines , collections of music and film for streaming , and virtual classes.
Current holds will be extended to allow you to pick them up after the Library has reopened. The Library will work this coming week to extend due dates for currently checked out materials. Note that most materials are automatically renewed unless another borrower has placed a hold on the item.

More information is available HERE .
City Changes to Promote Public Health
The City has cancelled almost all city-sponsored or permitted events. City Council meetings will be teleconferenced, with a publicly-accessible location for public comment and meeting observation.

Most board and commission meetings will be postponed for 60 days, except for the boards and commissions listed below conducting essential City business:
Old City Hall. Photo:  Sanfranman59 (Creative Commons  License ).
  • Design Review Committee
  • Fair Campaign Practices Commission
  • Joint Subcommittee on the Implementation of State Housing Laws
  • Landmarks Preservation Commission
  • Open Government Commission
  • Personnel Board
  • Planning Commission
  • Police Review Commission
  • Zoning Adjustments Board

In order to protect older adults (who are considered a high-risk population), our Senior Centers will close beginning Mon., March 16, and lunches will be available for pick-up from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m., Monday through Friday at the following locations :
  • West Berkeley Senior Center, 1900 Sixth St. (Building Hours: CLOSED)
  • South Berkeley Senior Center, 2939 Ellis St. (Building Hours: 8–11 a.m.)

Today, the City announced the closure of recreation centers and pools as well as the cancellation of recreation programs and special events beginning Mon., March 16. More information is available HERE.

The City is actively working on a plan to provide emergency child-care for our public safety and health care workers as well as for low-income parents with no other options during the school closure period

Additional Hygiene Resources for Unsheltered Individuals . The City has deployed 27 hand-washing stations, shown on this interactive mapSince March 5, more than 276 outreach kits including information on hand-washing stations, general precautions, what to do if you feel sick, and a bottle of hand sanitizer have been distributed to unsheltered individuals. Further, the Governor announced today efforts to secure hotels, motels, and trailers to house unsheltered individuals safely and protect communities.
State Assistance for Workers Impacted by COVID-19
Gov. Newsom signed an Executive Order on March 12 that, among other things, waives the one-week waiting period to apply for unemployment insurance or disability insurance benefits for people who are unemployed and/or disabled as a result of COVID-19. More information about how to apply for these and other worker benefits is described below .

The Executive Order also delays the deadline for state tax filing by 60 days for individuals and businesses unable to file on time based on compliance with public health requirements related to COVID-19. 
State Capitol Building in Sacramento. Photo: www78 (Creative Commons  License ).
The Governor said during a press conference today that an announcement related to eviction protections for tenants would be released tomorrow. State legislators will likely introduce additional relief measures, and I’ll keep you updated as they get signed into law. 

Unemployment Insurance
Why? If you have lost your job or your hours are reduced due to COVID-19.
What? Partial wage replacement benefits to workers who lose their job or have their hours reduced through no fault of their own.
Benefit. Range from $40–$450 per week for up to 26 weeks.
How to Apply. File an unemployment insurance claim HERE .

Disability Insurance
Why? If you’re unable to work due to medical quarantine or illness related to COVID-19 (certified by a medical professional).
What? Short-term benefit payments to eligible workers who have a full or partial loss of wages due to a non-work-related illness, injury, or pregnancy. 
Benefit. Approximately 60-70 percent of wages (depending on income); ranges from $50-$1,300 per week for up to 52 weeks.
How to Apply. File a disability insurance claim HERE.

Paid Family Leave
Why? If you’re unable to work because you are caring for an ill or quarantined family member with COVID-19 (certified by a medical professional).
What? Up to six weeks of benefit payments to eligible workers who have a full or partial loss of wages because they need time off work to care for a seriously ill family member.
Benefit. Approximately 60-70 percent of wages (depending on income); ranges from $50-$1,300 per week for up to six weeks.
How to Apply. Seek paid family leave HERE .

Workers’ Compensation
Why? If you're unable to do your usual job because you were exposed to and contracted COVID-19 during the regular course of your work, you may be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits.
What? Benefits include temporary disability (TD) payments, which begin when your doctor says you can’t do your usual work for more than three days or you are hospitalized overnight. You may be entitled for TD up to 104 weeks. TD stops when either you return to work, your doctor releases you for work, or your doctor says your illness has improved as much as it’s going to.
Benefit. TD generally pays two-thirds of the gross wages you lose while you are recovering from a work-related illness or injury, up to a maximum weekly amount set by law. In addition, eligible employees are entitled to medical treatment and additional payments if a doctor determines you suffered a permanent disability because of the illness.
How to Apply. File a worker’s comp claim HERE.
Federal Assistance to Combat COVID-19
So far, there are three forms of assistance that the federal government has made available: (1) an economic relief package passed by the House early on Sat., March 14, (2) $8.3 billion in funding to fight COVID-19, and (3) Small Business Administration loans.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced today that a third COVID-19 response package is in the works.
U.S. Capitol Building. Photo: LunchboxLarry (Creative Commons License ).
Here's what's in the House-passed economic relief package that will need to be taken up by the Senate:
  • Paid Sick Leave. The bill requires 14 days of paid sick leave at not less than two-thirds the regular rate of pay (maximum of $4,000) for individuals who: (1) are sick and have to be quarantined or treated for COVID-19, (2) have to take care of a family member who has COVID-19, or (3) have to stay home because they have a child whose school or daycare facility closes due to COVID-19. The proposal applies retroactively to Jan. 19, 2020 and exempts all large employers (+500 employees) and small employers (<50 employees) that apply for a hardship waiver.

  • Paid Family and Medical Leave. Under existing law, workers can receive unpaid family and medical leave for up to 12 weeks without fear of losing their job. The relief plan would provide workers with two-thirds of their typical rate of pay for the 12 weeks. The benefit, which applies to companies with fewer than 500 employees, would be available for a year for people affected by COVID-19 and is paid for by a tax credit for employers equal to 100 percent of the paid sick leave wage benefits they’ve paid out.

  • Additional Funding for Unemployment Insurance. The plan provides $1 billion for emergency grants to states, with half of the funds for immediate staffing, technology and other administrative costs and the other half to states that experience at least a 10 percent increase in unemployment.

  • Increased Federal Funding for Medicaid. The federal-state health program for low-income populations (known as Medi-Cal in California) would receive a 6.2 percent increase in the federal matching percentage, which equates to billions of dollars in new funding.

  • Additional Funding for Food Programs. The plan provides $1.25 billion in additional funding for food security programs and removes existing work requirements for the food stamps program (known as CalFresh in California) for the duration of the pandemic. 

  • Free COVID-19 Testing. A broad swath of the nation’s private health insurers have agreed to waive costs for COVID-19 testing. The relief plan provides $64 million for the Indian Health Service to cover COVID-19 testing for members of federally-recognized Native American tribes; $60 million for the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide free testing for veterans; and $1 billion for the National Disaster Medical System to reimburse the costs of free testing and services to people without health insurance. 

$8.3 Billion for COVID-19 Response . This funding, signed into law on March 6, includes: more than $3 billion for research and development of vaccines, test kits and medical treatments; $2.2 billion to aid public health activities on prevention, preparedness and response; and $1.25 billion to help international efforts aimed at reining in the virus. 

Small Business Administration (SBA) Loans . In his Oval Office address on March 11, the President announced that he is seeking $50 billion in additional funding from Congress to provide low-interest loans to small businesses impacted by COVID-19. Legislation will be needed to make these additional funds available. There is some funding available now, and the SBA provides more information about the process for applying for COVID-19 Disaster Relief Funding HERE .
PG&E and EBMUD Announce Moratoriums on Customer Shutoffs for Non-Payment
Both PG&E and EBMUD announced that service will remain in place for all customers, regardless of non-payment, throughout the COVID-19 emergency.   
A Time to Look Out for Each Other
I know that the circumstances in which we find ourselves are unprecedented. It’s normal to feel scared and anxious. Right now, the most important thing we can do is follow the guidance of public health officials. This is absolutely critical in order to “flatten the curve” and ensure that our hospitals have the capacity to treat the sickest patients.
The precautions we take today will save lives in the weeks and months to come. Many have and will continue to experience great economic hardship, and we must continue pushing for the relief we need from the state and federal government. The City Council will hold a special meeting on Tues., March 17 to consider protections and assistance for tenants, small businesses, and others who’ve been hard hit.

If you’re looking for ways to help, here are some ideas :
  • Food banks are facing a shortage of volunteers as a result of COVID-19. The Alameda County Community Food Bank is in need of volunteers to help pack emergency bags of food for people in need. More information is available HERE. 
  • Blood banks are facing severe shortages due to COVID-19. If you are healthy and able, consider donating blood. To find a blood bank near you, click HERE.
  • Support our local small businesses by ordering takeout, buying gift cards or shopping online.
  • If you’re healthy and able, help friends and family who need childcare during school closures.

If you have additional ideas on how we can support each other during this time, please don’t hesitate to be in touch: or 510-981-7110. One District 1 resident is organizing delivery of food and medicine to high-risk populations. Here are some more ideas on how to safely show up for your neighbors . We all need to look out for each other during this temporary period of difficulty.

I have no doubt that we are a strong and resilient community. Be kind to yourself and to one another. 
March Virtual Office Hours
Please join me for virtual office hours on Sun., March 22 from 3:30-5 p.m. All you have to do is visit the following web address on Sun., March 22 anytime from 3:30 to 5 p.m. to join me: . I hope to see you for the virtual meet-up to share the latest information about COVID-19 and discuss how we can support each other during this public health emergency. 
My Website
For updates on community issues and links to City information resources, please visit my website:

This site is also where you can find an archive of all of my newsletters to date.

To sign up to receive future newsletters, please click  HERE.
Seeking Assistance from the City
Here are key City of Berkeley resources to keep handy:

For illegal dumping , potholes, missed garbage pickups, or graffiti...
Call 311 or (510) 981-2489

For a public works emergency , such as a sewer overflow, traffic signal outage, fallen tree, or toxic spill...
Call (510) 981-6620

For a homeless person who appears vulnerable and in need of services or is demonstrating concerning behavior...
Call the Homeless Outreach and Treatment Team (HOTT) (510) 981-5273

For non-urgent criminal activity with no suspect present...
Call the Berkeley Police Non-Emergency line (510) 981-5900

You can also download the SeeClickFix app to report an issue to the City.