March 13, 2020

Community Spread of COVID-19 Heightens Need for Social Distancing, Berkeley Schools Closing, Follow Public Health Guidelines to Slow the Spread of COVID-19

This newsletter acts as a clearinghouse for a LOT of COVID-19-related information about 

  • Staying informed
  • Community spread
  • Social distancing
  • Changes to city services
  • Senior centers
  • Testing through clinicians
  • School closures
  • Worker resources
  • Public Health information,
  • Actions to help our unhoused community, and 
  • Updates from the Office of Economic Development

Scroll down and expand content in order to read important information.


Please sign up now for City of Berkeley emails here and visit the City’s COVID-19 website here. Please remember to get public health information from official public health channels (City of Berkeley’s Public Health Department, County of Alameda Public HealthCDCWHO, etc.), and not social media posts.



Please read the following message from our Public Health Officer, Dr. Lisa B. Hernandez, MD, MPH

Alameda County on Thursday evening announced that they had two lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases where there is no known exposure or travel history – a development that increases the urgency to add social distancing actions since the new coronavirus is now spreading in unknown ways in all of the inner ring of Bay Area counties.

Our county joins Contra Costa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, and Solano counties in seeing this development, known as “community spread,” even as our city has only three lab-confirmed cases, who each had known exposures not acquired in the community and are isolated.

As the City of Berkeley’s Health Officer, I encourage parents to use social distancing measures for children who are home from closed schools. For the general population, stronger social distancing measures will help reduce cases of severe illness, especially among the most vulnerable – those over 60 and those with chronic conditions.

Flatten the curve: effective social distancing and hygiene measures reduce spikes in hospital visits

With no pharmaceutical response available to treat this new coronavirus, hospital capacity becomes a concern, and we need to collectively reduce the number of people getting severe COVID-19 illness. I fully support the further reduction in non-essential gatherings, as recommended by the California Department of Public Health, and urge tighter guidelines to protect the most vulnerable. Organizers should cancel or postpone:

  • Gatherings of more than 250 people.
  • Smaller gatherings that do not allow six feet of space between people.
  • Gatherings of 10 or more people over 60 or who have underlying health conditions.

For gatherings of less than 250, consider the following factors:

  • 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 2-hour meeting is lower risk than a 2-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.
  • Geographic reach: Mixing of people across regions, states, and countries currently raises risk

These recommendations provide an additional layer of behaviors to hygiene measures everyone should take:

  • Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, alcohol-based hand sanitizer can be used.
  • Avoid close contact with other people
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands

Collective social action is powerful. The more that take these actions, we amplify the power of our most powerful weapons against COVID-19. In doing so, we prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed with severe cases.

Changes to City Services

Actions by City Manager

City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley has moved quickly on these recommendations and the following actions are underway:

  • Cancellation of almost all city-sponsored or permitted events.
  • Closure of our senior centers starting Monday March 16, while allowing pickup lunches.
  • Cancellation of most boards and commission meetings for 60 days, except for critical items for a few commissions
  • City council meetings will be teleconferenced, and will have a publicly accessible location for public comment and meeting observation.

Senior Centers: Pick-up lunches still available

In an effort to facilitate important service while maintaining social distancing for a vulnerable group, the City of Berkeley’s senior centers will provide members the opportunity to pick up a nutritious lunch daily, between the hours of 11:00 am – 12:00 pm only. Please note that this will be for PICK-UP ONLY with NO dine-in option.

North Berkeley Senior Center

1900 Sixth Street

Building Hours: CLOSED

Lunch Pick-up Service: Monday – Friday, 11:00am – 12:00pm


South Berkeley Senior Center

2939 Ellis Street

Building Hours: 8:00am – 11:00am

Lunch Pick-up Service: Monday – Friday, 11:00am – 12:00pm


Testing through clinicians

I know that many people are frustrated with the shortage in testing. I am, too. However, not everyone with symptoms needs to be tested for COVID-19.

  • Those who have mild symptoms of a cold or flu should stay home. With no pharmaceutical response, going to a hospital may expose you to other illnesses.
  • If your symptoms worsen or you have concerns, call your primary care physician.

All testing is done through clinicians. Our public health clinics do not test for COVID-19. Right now, the top priority for public health response is to implement and encourage community-wide, non-pharmaceutical actions that reduce exposures to this new coronavirus.

As I strive to serve our City of 120,000 people, I recognize that people are making many tough, complex decisions. Use the frameworks I’ve provided to help make decisions in consultation with those you trust and respect.

Our personal and group actions have great power. Help others. This is the time to act.


Lisa B. Hernandez, MD, MPH

City of Berkeley Health Officer



Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) announced that schools are closing through at least April 6, 2020. All BEARS/LEARNS programs, adult schools, facility rentals, athletics, practices, and school transportation will be suspended during this time. Find more information on BUSD’s website. Home learning resources are also available on their website.

If your child’s school is closed, it is important to follow public health recommendations on healthy behaviors and social distancing measures:

  • Stay home as much as possible. The intention behind school closures is to slow the spread of disease by reducing opportunities for exposure.
  • Avoid large gatherings. If you need to go out with your child, avoid crowded places where large numbers of people are within arm’s length of one another.
  • Children should avoid contact with high-risk groups, including grandparents and older caretakers. While children are less affected by COVID-19, they can spread the disease to others. Adults over 60 and people with underlying health conditions are at the highest risk. 

To find out what work/leave options you have available to you if your child’s school or daycare closes, please click here.

While School Is Closed: Food Is Available 

Mientras Que La Escuela Está Cerrada: Hay Alimentos Disponibles

The Berkeley Unified School District Nutrition Department is serving FREE BREAKFAST AND LUNCH as take-away meals for school-age children 18 and younger.

 Monday-Friday March 16-27

8:00 am – 9:30 am for Breakfast and 11:00 am – 1:00 pm for Lunch  

There will be a tent set up outside our central kitchen at King Middle School

  • 1781 Rose St, (enter behind the school at Grant/Rose, through gate)


9:00 – 9:30 am for Breakfast and 12:00 – 12:30 pm for Lunch

Students can also go to any one of these convenient locations:

  • Berkeley Arts Magnet Elementary, 2015 Virginia Street
  • Rosa Parks Elementary, 920 Allston Way
  • Longfellow Middle School, 1500 Derby Street
  • Willard Middle School, 2425 Stuart Street
  • Berkeley High School, 1980 Allston Way


El Departamento de Nutrición de Berkeley Unified School District está sirviendo DESAYUNO Y ALMUERZO GRATUITOS en comidas para llevar para los niños en edad escolar 18 y menores.

Lunes-Viernes Marzo 16-27       

 8:00 am – 9:30 am para Desayuno y 11:00 am – 1:00 pm para el Almuerzo 

En la Cocina Central: – Se colocará una carpa afuera cerca de la cocina central en

  • King Middle School 1781 Rose St,    (entre por la parte de atrás de la escuela en Grant/Rose, a través del portón)

9:00 am – 9:30 am para Desayuno y 12:00 am – 12:30 pm para el Almuerzo 

Los alimentos también estarán disponibles en 6 ubicaciones – el estudiante puede ir a la ubicación que más le convenga:

  •     Berkeley Arts Magnet Elementary, 2015 Virginia Street
  •     Rosa Parks Elementary, 920 Allston Way
  •     Longfellow Middle School, 1500 Derby Street
  •     Willard Middle School, 2425 Stuart Street
  •     Berkeley High School, 1980 Allston Way

 Everyone of all ages should continue to practice healthy behaviors that slow the spread of disease::

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds
  • Cover your cough with a tissue or your elbow
  • Stay home when sick, except to get medical care

If you need to go out, follow public health guidance about social distancing, and try to maintain at least an arm’s length of space between yourself and others.

For advice on talking to children about COVID-19, refer to guidance from the CDC.



If you live in California and are losing wages due to COVID-19, you can apply for family leave benefits, unemployment, wage loss, or disability benefits here.

Do you have questions about paid sick leave, paid leave, work requirements, and/or compensation? Please visit California’s Department of Industrial Relations here.



About COVID-19

COVID-19 is a respiratory disease which has now spread to the United States.

It is mild for most people, but can cause severe illness and result in death for some. Older adults and people with chronic medical conditions, such as heart disease or diabetes, have the greatest risk of becoming severely ill.

There is no vaccine and no medications approved to treat COVID-19 at this time.

How it spreads

COVID-19 spreads from person to person, mainly through coughs and sneezes of infected people or between people who are in close contact.

How we're responding

We activated our Emergency Operations Center in January to coordinate response and prepare for a potential outbreak. Our Public Health staff have been and continue to work closely with regional, state, and federal officials to protect our community as we respond to this developing situation.

This is a new disease, and scientists are learning more about it daily. 

Recommendations may change rapidly. Stay up to date with City messages by signing up for our community news email list.

Protect yourself and others

The most important thing you can do is to practice everyday healthy behaviors that prevent the spread of germs.

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Don't touch your face with unwashed hands.
  • Use alcohol based hand sanitizer when soap and water aren't available. Look for one with at least 60% alcohol.
  • Avoid contact with people who are sick.

These actions don't just protect you. They help keep our whole community safe, especially our most vulnerable residents, by slowing the spread of the disease.

The CDC website has additional information about how to get your household ready for a potential outbreak.

Travel advisories

Several countries are experiencing rapid community spread of COVID-19. The CDC recommends avoiding all nonessential travel to these countries. If you have trips planned, check the latest CDC travel guidelines.


Don't spread infections to others. When you're sick with any respiratory illness:

  • Stay home. Don't go to school or work.
  • Minimize contact with others in your household.
  • Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash. If you don't have a tissue, cough into your elbow rather than your hand.
  • Wash or sanitize hands immediately after coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces, like doorknobs, phones, and faucets.

COVID-19 Symptoms

If you suspect you are infected with COVID-19, call ahead before visiting a medical facility so they can prepare. Do not go to an emergency room with mild symptoms.

The symptoms of COVID-19 are:

  • fever
  • cough
  • shortness of breath

Call your doctor right away if you experience these symptoms and have:

  • been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19, or
  • recently traveled from an area with ongoing community spread

CDC has a factsheet with more information about what to do if you are sick with COVID-19.

Click here for general resources on COVID (bottom of the page)


The City of Berkeley has deployed dozens of handwashing stations, hand-delivered over hundreds of public health information and sanitation kits to the unhoused, and given hundreds more to partner providers. The City of Berkeley has been working with homeless services partners on guidance as it evolves. All of these efforts are in addition to an array of other existing resources, such as portable toilets, showers, shelter, housing assistance, professional mental health services, and more. 

Our local news organization Berkeleyside wrote about the city’s efforts here.


Stop COVID-19 from spreading in Berkeley--preventative measures your business can take. 

Review the preventative precautions your business, non-profit or arts organization can take to avoid COVID-19 from spreading. 

If you own or run a business, now is the time to get ready for the impact of increased coronavirus spread within the Bay Area.

Adopt policies and practices that support current public health recommendations, and plan ahead to take more stringent measures when risk levels increase. Find detailed preparedness recommendations for businesses on the CDC website.

Specific actions the City of Berkeley is recommending include the following.

Tell sick employees to stay home

Actively remind workers to stay home if they are sick. Use verbal reminders, all-staff memos, and signage in common areas to ensure all employees are aware they should not be coming to work when ill.

Adopt workplace policies that reinforce this position:

  • If an employee shows up sick, send them home right away.
  • Adopt non-punitive sick leave policies so employees don’t have incentives to come to work sick. Make sure employees are aware of these policies.
  • Don’t require a doctor’s note when employees stay home. Increased spread of coronavirus will place a significant burden on health care providers, and they may not be able to provide documentation in a timely manner.

People who have been sick should not come to work until they have been free of fever and other symptoms for at least 24 hours.

In an outbreak, a greater number of employees than usual may be out sick for extended periods of time, or be needed at home to care for sick family members. Put plans in place now to support operations during periods of high absenteeism.

Stress the importance of healthy behaviors

Post signage in common areas promoting behaviors that slow the spread of disease, such as:

  • Washing hands often
  • Avoiding touching your face
  • Covering coughs with a tissue or your elbow and promptly disposing of tissues
  • Avoiding close contact with those who are ill
  • Get plenty of sleep
  • Eat healthy food

Make it easy for employees to follow health recommendations by providing tissues and no-touch disposal bins.

Place alcohol-based hand sanitizers in common spaces and conference rooms, and keep sink areas stocked with hand soap.

Perform routine cleaning

Regularly clean your facility, including common areas and frequently touched surfaces such as doorknobs, tables, and workstations with standard cleaning agents. If you think there has been potential exposure at your facility, follow CDC guidance for cleaning and disinfection.

Provide disposable wipes for employees so they can wipe down keyboards, phones, and remote controls before each use.

Prepare to support “social distancing.” As confirmed COVID-19 cases rise, Public Health authorities will recommend implementing “social distancing” measures to slow further spread.

For employers, this will require finding ways to increase physical distance between employees. Think about how you’ll implement measures to:

  • Encourage remote work
    Support telecommuting for any employees who are able to do so. Get prepared by checking your information technology infrastructure to ensure you’ll be able to support employees working from home. Create documentation reminding employees how to perform common tasks such as checking email and voicemail remotely.
  • Adopt staggered shifts
    Ask employees to adjust working hours to reduce the number of people in an office at one time.
  • Cross-train personnel
    Make sure that essential business functions can be performed by multiple people.

Other potential guidance may include suspending non-essential travel and canceling in-person meetings and conferences. Start making plans now for how you will incorporate these recommendations into your operations.


The CDC and City of Berkeley have created materials you can print and post to promote healthy behaviors at your workplace:

Small Business Administration provides low-interest disaster loans to help businesses and homeowners recover from declared disasters.


Lori Droste

Berkeley City Councilmember, District 8