Dear Neighbor,

The City reported its first case of coronavirus (COVID-19 infection) on Tues., March 3. City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley proclaimed a local emergency on Tuesday afternoon so that the Emergency Operations Center could marshal additional resources.  In this e-mail, I want to share some important information about how to protect yourself and our community.

Berkeleyside is reporting the following update about the coronovirus patient:
"The person who tested positive for COVID-19 is in his or her mid-30s, has a mild case and is recovering at home in Berkeley, according to Dr. Lisa Hernandez, Berkeley’s health officer. The individual had stayed mostly at home after returning from Italy on Feb. 23 but went to see a medical professional on Monday. That professional alerted the City of Berkeley immediately about a suspected case of coronavirus and the City was able to use a local public health lab to get test results. The results came back late Monday night, said Hernandez. The city issued a press release around 3 p.m. Tuesday."

Because the virus is so new, there are no approved medications nor a vaccine to treat it. Here are recommended precautions:
  • Wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds (the time it takes to hum “Happy Birthday” twice);
  • Cover your cough or sneeze (use your elbow or shoulder, not your hands);
  • Stay home if you are sick;
  • Get your flu shot to protect against flu or symptoms similar to COVID-19; and
  • If you have recently returned from a region with ongoing COVID-19 infections, monitor your health. For more information, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Travel webpage.
COVID-19 has nothing to do with a person’s race or ethnicity. Practicing good hygiene behaviors will slow the spread of the disease and is the most impactful thing you can do right now. City staff have informed me that they will be making additional hand-washing stations available to unsheltered individuals. According to Berkeley Health Officer Dr. Lisa Hernandez: "While the risk of infection remains low, the expanded presence of the virus in our community is a reality we should all prepare for. There are steps that all of us in the community can take now to improve basic hygiene and also prepare for a wider spread in the future."

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

Be Prepared . As the virus spreads, the need for "social distancing" increases. On a personal level, that might mean an end to handshakes. During a widespread outbreak, social distancing could mean cancellation of large events or even school. These actions have already occurred in various countries. While these large-scale closures are not currently in place in Berkeley, it is good to be prepared if they are introduced. 

You can prepare for possible disruptions caused by an outbreak:
  • Make sure you have a supply of all essential medications for your family;
  • Make a childcare plan in case you or a caregiver become sick;
  • Make arrangements about how your family will manage a school closure; and
  • Make a plan for how you can care for a sick family member without getting sick yourself.

To help, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has prepared COVID-19 toolkits for your  home childcare or K-12 school college , or  workplace .

A Note of Caution About Masks .  A paper face mask is helpful only to prevent you from infecting others. An N-95 respirator mask must be specially fitted in order to be effective in reducing the risk of disease. They are used by health care providers who are caring for infectious patients. People who wear masks or N-95 respirators improperly actually increase their own risk of infection, because they may continually adjust them by touching their faces. There is currently a national shortage of both N-95 respirators and masks, so it's recommended that they are only used by those who need them: patients and health care providers.

Rely on Trusted Information Sources. There is a lot of misinformation circulating about COVID-19 on social media. Do not believe everything you read. Rely on trusted health authorities, including World Health Organization (WHO) , Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) , California Department of Public Health (CDPH) , and City of Berkeley Public Health . As the situation develops, the City will continue to update its Public Health Division COVID-19 webpage with the most current information and recommendations.

Twitter Town Hall with Berkeley Health Officer on Friday. Our Health Officer, Dr. Lisa Hernandez, will answer your questions about the health aspects of COVID-19 during a one-hour Twitter town hall starting at 12 p.m. on Fri., March 6. Tweet your questions to  @CityofBerkeley  using the hashtag #BerkCOVID19, or use an  online form  to submit a question anonymously. Dr. Hernandez will answer as many questions as possible during the town hall, and all answers will be posted to the Public Health Division COVID-19 webpage  next week.