December 6, 2020
Dear Neighbor,
It is with a heavy heart that I share with you that the state has imposed strict restrictions due to a surge in Covid-19 cases over the last few weeks, and the resulting shortage of Intensive Care Unit (ICU) hospital capacity. Here in the Bay Area, our City of Berkeley Health Officer—along with health officers from five counties—has made the call to adopt the state's regional stay-at-home order effective at midnight, Mon., Dec. 7 before our ICU capacity drops further. 
On a briefing call with our City of Berkeley Health Officer on Fri., Dec. 4, I learned that ICU capacity is running dangerously low. Overall, California ICU capacity was at 21% as of Friday. Current projections show that without additional intervention to slow the spread of Covid-19, the number of available ICU beds in the state will be at capacity by mid-December. Further, the ability to add additional ICU capacity is limited by the lack of available ICU nurses and physicians as a result of the nationwide surge. The regional stay-at-home order going into effect at midnight is critical to avoid further overwhelming hospitals and to prevent the need to ration care, according to the State Health Officer's order.   

Hospitals with greater capacity will be asked to help if other hospitals run dangerously low, so it’s critical that we act as a region to slow the spread of Covid-19. According to Berkeley Health Officer Dr. Lisa Hernandez, Alameda County stands at 31.5% ICU capacity as of Friday. San Francisco is at 18.3%, Santa Clara is at 13%, and Sonoma is at 12.7%.

Alameda County Health Officer Dr. Nicholas Moss had this to say on Friday: "Rising hospitalization rates across the region threaten not only our community members with severe Covid-19, but anyone who may need care because of a heart attack, stroke, accident, or other critical health need. By acting together now we will have the greatest impact on the surge and save more lives."

I know this latest shutdown represents a huge blow to our small businesses recently granted permission to reopen—like our hair salons, tattoo shops, massage therapy services, restaurants' outdoor dining, and more. Santa Clara County Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody spoke on Friday about the challenges facing our small businesses: "We understand that the closures under the State order will have a profound impact on our local businesses. However, if we act quickly, we can both save lives and reduce the amount of time these restrictions have to stay in place, allowing businesses and activities to reopen sooner." 

After nine months of dealing with this pandemic, strict restrictions are particularly hard to swallow—with no additional federal relief for our small businesses or enhanced unemployment for those facing a job loss or cut hours. But if we can get through this difficult winter, we are bound to see an improving situation next year. As I write this, East Bay hospitals are preparing to receive their first doses of vaccine later this month. I ask you to please stay home as much as possible to keep yourself and our community safe, including during the winter holidays. If you choose to leave home, please choose low-risk activities with your household only. Let's all do our part to make it to the other side

In this newsletter:
  • In Brief: What's Open & Closed Beginning Mon., Dec. 7
  • Details on Regional Stay-at-Home Order
  • Sulfurous Odor Impacting Our Air Quality
  • My Thoughts on School Reopening
  • Virtual Town Hall with State Senator Nancy Skinner
  • Upcoming Meeting Related to Zoning Ashby & N. Berkeley BART Stations on Mon., Dec. 14
In Brief: What's Open & Closed Beginning Mon., Dec. 7
Note: All businesses must adhere to industry-specific Covid-19 safety protocols listed in Appendix A of the City of Berkeley COVID-19 Risk Reduction Health Order and industry guidance from the State of California.
Details on Regional Stay-at-Home Order
Please find below the City's news release from Sat., Dec. 5 on the regional stay-at-home order that goes into effect at midnight on Mon., Dec. 7:

A surge of Covid-19 hospitalizations is pushing six Bay Area Health Officers to quickly align with new State orders limiting certain activities that could further escalate the already rapid spread of the virus.
In Alameda County alone, the number of people hospitalized countywide for Covid-19 has almost quadrupled over the past seven weeks, from 52 to 206. The virus’s explosive growth, even without including an anticipated surge due to Thanksgiving gatherings, will further endanger the region unless collective action is taken.

The emergency, temporary measures outlined in the state order affect industries ranging from restaurants, which will be limited to take-out and delivery, to hair salons and personal care services, which will have to close. Everyone who can telecommute must do so to protect those who cannot.

These orders, which go into effect in Berkeley early Mon., Dec. 7, also require every household to take steps: stay home as much as possible, choose low-risk activities when you do go out and limit how many of those you do. Face coverings and physical distancing remain crucial. You should not meet in person with anyone you don't live with—even a small group, even outdoors with precautions.

“We must act swiftly to save as many lives as we can,” said Dr. Lisa Hernandez, the City of Berkeley Health Officer. “Each of us can fight the spread. Keep your family safe by avoiding even small gatherings outside of your household and not traveling. End of year gatherings are traditionally precious, but this year they could lead to sickness and worse.”

“Show all your loved ones your care by only celebrating with your own household.”

Temporary closures outlined in state rules
Local orders will last for four weeks, starting at 12:01 a.m. on Mon., Dec. 7 and ending at 11:59 p.m. on Jan. 4 in both Berkeley and the rest of Alameda County. The counties of Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, and Santa Clara are also adopting the state rules on this accelerated pace.

The temporary closures include the following:
  • outdoor dining (take-out, pick-up, and delivery would still be permitted)
  • indoor and outdoor playgrounds
  • indoor recreational facilities
  • hair salons, barbershops, and personal care services
  • museums, zoos, and aquariums
  • movie theaters
  • wineries, bars, breweries, and distilleries
  • family entertainment centers, cardrooms and satellite wagering
  • Limited services not included in critical infrastructure

Temporary limits to other sectors
The following sectors will need to implement additional modifications and ensure 100% masking and physical distancing:
  • Outdoor recreational facilities: permitted only without any food, drink, or alcohol sales. Overnight stays at campgrounds prohibited.
  • Retail and shopping centers: indoor operations permitted at 20% capacity with entrance metering and no eating or drinking in the stores.
  • Hotels and lodging: accepting reservations for non-essential out of state travel prohibited.
  • Offices: remote only, except for critical infrastructure sectors where remote working is not possible.
  • Places of worship and political expression: Only outdoor services permitted.
  • Entertainment production including professional sports: operation permitted without live audiences.

Permitted to continue operating under state’s Regional Stay-At-Home-Order
The following sectors may remain open when a remote option is not possible, with appropriate Covid-19 preventative measures including ensuring 100% masking and physical distancing:

Quarantine urged for out of state travelers and their contacts
Anyone who travels out of the regionor who gathers with a traveler from outside the regionis strongly urged to quarantine for 14 days.

There is a high likelihood that travelers at this time will be exposed to Covid-19 and would bring it back to our community.

Gatherings with other households on temporary hold
All gatherings with members of other households are prohibited in the City of Berkeley, with limited exceptions:
  • Schools that are open and childcare providers may continue to operate.
  • Outdoor religious and cultural ceremonies may also continue.

Both of the above exceptions have specific restrictions, which people should examine in the City of Berkeley Health Order.

If you had a social bubble, Covid-19 has now popped it.

Being in community gives us meaning. For the next month, we are now tasked with finding ways to do so without being physically together. This easily spreading virus lurks among us at an unprecedented level, making even small, outdoor, masked gatherings unsafe.

“Covid-19 is posing its most dangerous threat yet in the pandemic,” said Dr. Hernandez. “Immediate, drastic action is needed to prevent our healthcare system from becoming overwhelmed. We hope that these emergency measures combined with a rising tide of individual actions that prevent spread can save lives and allow businesses and activities to reopen much sooner.”

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Sulfurous Odor Impacting Our Air Quality
My office has received numerous calls and e-mails since late October about an odor that has been described as sulfurous, cleanser-like, rotten eggs.

In addition to the inconvenience this noxious odor creates, we have even received complaints that the odor has caused headaches and nausea. Understandably, folks have questions about the source of the odor and whether it’s harmful to our health.

To date, my office has been in touch with the following entities to ascertain whether their facilities or activities are the source of the odor: 

  • LeHigh Hanson Asphalt Company. The asphalt company indicated to City staff that Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) inspectors measured the air particulates and the odor with a chemical "sniffer" for 30 minutes on Nov. 4th at the UC Berkeley Extension Campus next to the asphalt plant, but they were not able to detect any odor. Our City’s Environmental Health team has also been in touch with the asphalt company, but to date has not been able to determine that they are the source of the odor. 

  • PG&E. On Nov. 24, a PG&E field representative was at a location where they could detect the odor, which they described as strong and akin to a toxic cleanser. The field representative did not detect any methane at the location and did not believe it was attributable to PG&E gas line work in the area. 

  • EBMUD. EBMUD field representatives contacted by my office on Nov. 24 did not report doing any work in the area that would have led to the odor.
 
  • City of Berkeley. City of Berkeley facilities, such as Aquatic Park and the Transfer Station, have been ruled out by City staff. 

We will continue to explore avenues to escalate our inquiries with the above-listed entities. If you have a theory about what might be causing the odor, then please feel free to e-mail it to me: rkesarwani@cityofberkeley.info. We will follow up on any plausible leads.    

While we have not yet been able to identify the source or cause, I want you to know that I take these complaints very seriously. We have been able to connect with our representative on the BAAQMD Board, Emeryville Councilmember John Bauters, who has escalated our request for answers directly to BAAQMD leadership, including the CEO and Deputy Air Pollution Control Officer.  

What you can do: Continue to call the BAAQMD complaint line 1-800-334-ODOR (6367) whenever you smell the odor to report it. This will help to establish a record of where and when the odor is detected and will help to ensure that the agency gives this issue their full attention. 
My Thoughts on Reopening Schools
I have been following the issue of school reopening closely. I’m the mom of a toddler, and I understand the heartbreak and worry parents feel to see their children struggling mentally and emotionally and losing ground academically. That’s not to mention the stress on parents attempting to juggle remote learning with their own work, which is disproportionately causing women to leave the workforce

Listening to an October California Assembly hearing on the safe reopening of schools, I gained a greater appreciation for the complexity involved in school reopening. The superintendent of the San Diego County Office of Education described the work that had gone into reopening 33 of their 42 school districts in some capacity, including small cohorts for vulnerable students and hybrid learning models (combining remote and in-person instruction):

  • Capacity to test staff regularly, and funding the cost of testing; a dedicated contact tracing team for k-12 education; and isolation practices in the event of an exposure
  • Logistical planning related to only bringing back 30 to 50% of students at any given time in order to follow physical distancing guidance, including morning and afternoon sessions, hybrid schedules, and stipends for educators in need of childcare for their own children during school hours; hybrid schedules also require a renegotiation of labor agreements
  • Public messaging, such as informational videos, for parents and students on how to safely return to school
  • Online lesson plans for continuing remote learning sessions   
  • Accommodations for students with disabilities and students who need to continue in remote learning full-time due to being high-risk themselves or living in a household with people who are at high-risk of developing serious complications from Covid-19
  • Addressing Internet connectivity challenges for students
  • Following facial covering, distancing, and ventilation guidelines while at school

All of these issues are real, and are difficult for each individual school district to address on their own. The Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) Elementary School Reopening dashboard shows that the school district is working to address these issues. According to the dashboard, the outstanding elements include development of: an accommodation process for employees who can’t work in person; the hybrid learning model, including schedule, logistics, and a labor agreement; substitute staffing for employees who need accommodations, and a student enrollment survey, among a couple other elements.

Local school districts are doing this work against extremely difficult odds:
  • There are little additional federal resources to support the cost of logistical changes, facilities upgrades, and health and safety protocols (the state did provide $5.3 billion to support remote learning and school reopening);
  • Inconsistent health and safety guidance (from various levels of government) that can be difficult to implement and challenging to enforce; and
  • No federal or state standardized benchmarks or best practices to help guide local reopening decisions

With all reopening decisions left to a local school district, it’s not hard to see that this is a recipe for better-resourced private schools and better-funded school districts to reopen (in some capacity) sooner while others remain in remote instruction—compounding inequities. I’m a strong believer in the importance of data; we can’t change what we don’t track, so it says something about our values that the State of California does not have a requirement for school districts to report on their reopening decisions.  

When we look to countries that have reopened schools successfully, we tend to see that it was a value expressed by the leader of a national government—and this leadership set the tone and established the priority for school reopening.1 Sadly, our country has never had that kind of leadership during the pandemic—for a safe reopening of schools or for simply controlling exponential spread of the virus. Despite all of these challenges, I do want to commend the work that BUSD has done to prepare for a safe reopening. It’s my understanding that BUSD is one of only two school districts in Alameda County that has been able to reopen for small cohorts of high-needs students at elementary schoolsa major accomplishment! Our teachers are continuing to do the best they can to serve our students under these unprecedented and challenging circumstances.

As we know, the virus doesn’t respect state borders, and it was only a matter of time before the Midwestern surge in case counts during the fall spread nationwide. We are now at a point in Alameda County where California Department of Public Health guidance does not allow schools to reopen that have not already done so—because the virus is considered to be widespread (purple tier of the state’s four tiers for measuring Covid-19 spread). I know that BUSD is continuing to prepare for a wider reopening when it is deemed safe—after 14 days in the red tier (when spread is considered “substantial,” but not “widespread”).2

I write this not to make excuses, but to help explain the challenge we face. I want to assure you that our Alameda County and City of Berkeley Health Officers have made reopening decisions that have sought to prioritize schools, recognizing the public health benefits that our schools provide. I’ve had an opportunity to personally ask about this. I’ve heard our health officers explain that their prioritization of schools is why our reopening took place gradually and selectively—with high-risk businesses like bars not granted permission to reopen and restaurants and gyms only able to reopen indoors with limited capacity. I’m saddened that our best efforts at the local level have simply not been enough, and I thank the parents reminding us of the urgency to keep working to reopen schools safely. The most important thing we can all do right now to support these efforts is to slow the spread of Covid-19 by staying home as much as possible.

Here are two questions I'm also pondering:
  • What can we do now to support vulnerable children while schools generally remain closed for in-person instruction?
  • How can we create opportunities for all of our students to safely connect in-person to their campus community in some capacity?

1It's important to note that most European countries do not provide a remote learning model or a hybrid model alongside in-person education, which simplifies the reopening process but provides families with little choice.
2Elementary schools can apply for a waiver to reopen in the purple "widespread" tier.
Virtual Town Hall with State Senator Nancy Skinner
Our State Senator Nancy Skinner will host a virtual Town Hall on Tues., Dec. 8 from 4-5 p.m. Experts will provide updates on coronavirus vaccines and how California plans to distribute them, as well as information about how to have a healthy and safe holiday season.

Featured speakers include:
  • Dr. Nicholas Moss, Alameda County Health officer
  • Dr. Noha Aboelata, CEO of Oakland's Roots Community Health Center. Dr. Aboelata will provide information on the spread of the disease in impacted communities, along with issues concerning equity of care.
  • Dr. Bob Wachter, chair of UC San Francisco's Department of Medicine. Dr. Wachter will provide the latest updates on vaccines and distribution and the spread of the disease.

This virtual Town Hall will be available to view on Senator Skinner's website from 4-5 p.m., Tues., Dec. 8. If you would like to submit a question on a topic listed above, please do so HERE by 11 a.m., Tues., Dec. 8.
Upcoming Meeting Related to Zoning Ashby & N. Berkeley BART Stations
Please SAVE THE DATE for Mon., Dec. 14 from 6-9 p.m. for Meeting #4 of the BART Community Advisory Group. More information will be posted HERE.
COVID-19 Resources
General Resources. The Mayor’s Office has created a resource guide, with information about parking enforcement, senior hours at local grocery stores and other information.

The state COVID-19 website is where you can get up to speed on what’s happening statewide, learn how you can safely help, and find out what resources and assistance may be available.

A Berkeley Mutual Aid website has been created for neighbors to offer and receive assistance, such as with grocery shopping or phone calls to neighbors.

Supporting Businesses. You can donate to the Berkeley Relief Fund to support low-income tenants, small businesses and non-profits, and non-profit arts organizations or donate directly to a local business. The Berkeley Chamber of Commerce has created a resource guide for businesses.

Eviction Protections. If you have any questions about our local residential and commercial eviction moratorium or housing retention grants for low-income tenants, more information is available HERE. The Council has also passed an urgency ordinance to prevent commercial landlords from increasing rent by more than 10% (see Item #8 HERE).

Price Gouging. Anyone who has been the victim of price gouging, or has information about potential price gouging, can file a complaint with the District Attorney's Office by emailing pricegouging@acgov.org or calling (510) 383-8600.

Donate Blood. You can donate blood at the Oakland Blood Donation Center (6230 Claremont Ave. in Oakland) where they are using physical distancing protocols, disinfecting between donors, and taking temperatures of donors and staff. Please visit the Red Cross website to make an appointment before visiting. 

Donate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) through the City or through my office.

Food Resources.

  • HelpBerkeley.org provides low-cost meals to individuals at high risk of developing complications from Covid-19, and they are in need of volunteers to help deliver meals.


  • Information on additional food resources, such as CalFresh, WIC, and school meals, is available HERE.

Resources for Mental Health and Wellness.


  • The Domestic Violence Resource Guide for Alameda County is available HERE.

If you have specific questions or concerns, please always feel free to reach out to me: rkesarwani@cityofberkeley.info or 510-981-7110.
My Website
For updates on community issues and links to City information resources, please visit my website: www.rashikesarwani.com.

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.
COVID-19 Information Sources