Berkeley has a reputation for uniting against civil and human rights abuses, against wars and dictators, and so much more. Today, this community faces a new threat that requires us to stand together and provide a united response, a response that requires us to stand physically apart.
COVID-19 has had an unprecedented impact on all of us, but in order to protect the integrity of our public health system, we must flatten the rate at which this virus is spreading. These actions will have a disruptive impact on our daily lives and our local economy.
On Monday, March 16, the city of Berkeley’s health officer, Dr. Lisa Hernandez, joined health officers from six Bay Area counties in announcing a shelter-in- place order. It will be effective starting at 12:01 a.m on Tuesday, March 17, and it will last until at least April 7. While this is not a complete lockdown (grocery stores, healthcare facilities, pharmacies, gas stations, home supply stores, banks and laundromats will remain open, and restaurants can offer takeout), all non-essential gatherings will be prohibited.
Public transit such as BART will remain operational, but only for essential travel, and commuters will need to practice social distancing (remaining 6 feet away from anyone). People will still be allowed to go outside to exercise or walk their dog while practicing social distancing. However, seniors and people with underlying health conditions are being asked to stay inside. The full order can be found here.
The city of Berkeley has responded rapidly to protect our community from COVID-19. On March 3, the city manager issued a Proclamation of Local Emergency, giving the city the ability to take necessary action to address this growing health threat. We have installed new sanitation hand-washing stations throughout the city and have provided hundreds of outreach kits containing hand sanitizer and flyers with information on COVID-19 to unhoused individuals. The city launched its Emergency Operations Center (EOC) in late January and it will continue to be in operation during this crisis.
Our focus is on the health and safety of our city, making sure that we contain the spread of COVID-19, provide sanitation, shelter and protective equipment for employees and residents, including our unhoused, and keep the essential functions of city government in operation. We will do everything we can to reduce the risk of COVID-19 to our community and ensure our city comes out of this crisis stronger and more united.
On Tuesday, the City Council will take immediate action on several policies aimed to assist those who may be struggling financially as a result of disruptions.
While it is incumbent upon this community to act decisively to follow all recommended social distancing measures, we know that our small business and arts community will feel the impacts of this crisis most directly. We have heard from entertainment venues, businesses and business associations, and understand the dire circumstances this pandemic places upon them.
We must take multilateral actions to support our small business community. These actions include deferring appropriate taxes and fees, expanding campaigns to support local arts venues and small businesses, pausing loan payment collections, requesting a state declaration of economic emergency disaster, and continuing to work to identify additional direct financial support.
We plan to initiate the Berkeley COVID-19 Relief Fund. This will allow the public to make donations to support members of the Berkeley community that have been significantly impacted. The city will match these funds to support tenants struggling to pay their rent with demonstrated impact from the virus and arts organizations and small businesses impacted by COVID-19 with a demonstrated reduction in patronage.
I am also introducing an ordinance prohibiting specified evictions during the COVID-19 state of emergency and call on our state and federal representatives to pursue similar action. The city of Berkeley is focused and committed to taking the necessary actions to protect our community.
As Berkeley has always done, we each must look out for each other. The future of our community calls upon all of us, even those who are young, healthy, and well-resourced to take all necessary and recommended precautions to flatten the curve, preserve medical capacity for those most in need, and come together as a community through this crisis.
Jesse Arreguín is the mayor of Berkeley.