January 27, 2021
Dear Neighbor,
I hope you are feeling a sense of relief and hope from last week's peaceful inauguration of a new president. Already, the incoming federal administration has taken executive action intended to curb the pandemic. I understand there are lots of questions about the bumpy vaccine rollout to date; we are learning more each day, and I'll do my best to share as much information as possible in this newsletter.

For now, the most important thing you can do is sign up for the City's new online form, so you can be notified when a Covid-19 vaccine is available for you.

As of Mon., Jan. 25, the state lifted the regional stay home order, and we are now in the state's most restrictive purple tier, meaning Covid-19 is still considered widespread. In the state's purple tier, the following activities are permitted to resume with safety protocols:
  • Restaurants can resume outdoor dining.
  • Gyms and fitness studios can reopen outdoors.
  • Religious and cultural activities may take place outdoors.
  • A household may gather outdoors with up to two other households as long as they use face coverings, keep the meetings short and don't include anyone feeling sick.
  • Hair salons, barbershops, nail salons, piercing shops, tattoo parlors, and other personal care services can operate indoors. 
  • Grocery stores can increase from 35 percent capacity to 50 percent, including hired shoppers.
  • Hotels and short-term rentals for non-essential travel can resume.

I understand the disappointment that parents may feel in seeing the state allow businesses to reopen while our schools remain closed for an in-person instructional option. I have heard from many parents who are concerned about the impact that the prolonged absence of in-person instruction is having on our children, particularly their socioemotional well-being and mental health. We also know that the only path to reopening classrooms is to ensure that our teachers, staff, and students are safe. The state has released comprehensive guidance on safely reopening schools, which specifies that elementary schools can reopen when the "adjusted case rate has been less than 25 per 100,000 population per day for at least five consecutive days"—a standard that our community has not yet reached. Middle and high schools can reopen when cases are 7 per 100,000 or less. We can all do our part to facilitate a safe reopening of schools by continuing to follow guidance to stay home as much as possible, wear a facial covering, and keep six feet of distance from people outside of our household.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has made clear that "the preponderance of available evidence" shows that in-person instruction can be carried out safely with facial coverings and physical distance, and neither the CDC nor the California Department of Public Health require vaccinations of teachers and school staff as a prerequisite for reopening. However, it's apparent from recent comments by Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) Superintendent Brent Stephens that vaccines could make a difference in reaching consensus with our union partners: "We're waiting eagerly to learn more about vaccinations, which we think will likely be a key to a different kind of dialogue about reopening and hope very much that this next period of six to eight weeks, perhaps, really makes a key difference and enables us at least to begin to reopen our elementary schools."

I have been vocal to our City staff leadership about the importance of prioritizing BUSD teachers and school staff for vaccination under the state's Prioritization Framework (within Phase 1b, Tier 1 described further below) because it appears that this may help the school district and our union partners reach consensus on the terms of a safe return to in-person instruction. There's a total of about 1,300 BUSD teachers and staff, which gives me confidence that the goal of vaccinating our teachers could be achieved within a matter of days. But time is of the essence because the state is planning to shift to an age-based priority system by mid-February. Share your input on this important issue by e-mailing me (rkesarwani@cityofberkeley.info) and/or City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley (manager@cityofberkeley.info).   

In this newsletter:
  • All About Vaccines
  • New Covid-19 Testing Options
  • Facilities Subcommittee of the School Board meets TOMORROW, Jan. 28 to discuss workforce housing at the Adult School
  • Ashby & N. Berkeley BART Community Meeting #2 on Feb. 8
  • Apply for "Reimagining Public Safety Task Force" by Feb. 8
Vaccine Information from City of Berkeley
With vaccine doses still limited nationwide, Berkeley Public Health is looking to vaccinate residents 75 and older as well as health care workers in the city who have not been able to get vaccinations through their health provider or workplace.

Those interested can sign up for a notification list, which will be used to prioritize vaccinations through the City of Berkeley or one of several community partners.
A Covid-19 testing lab. Photo: HM Treasury (Creative Commons License).
People who are not part of a group currently being vaccinated can sign up to be notified when eligibility expands, or when appointments become broadly available. 

These vaccinations administered by the City align with state guidelines, which prioritize those most at risk of infection or serious Covid-19 illness. The City’s vaccinations fill in gaps for those not vaccinated by health care providers or medical workplaces

Those with a medical provider, such as Kaiser Permanente or Sutter Health, should sign up with them.

Vaccines are being distributed through multiple channels
People at high-risk of infection or serious illness have been getting vaccines through multiple channels. 

  • Hospital systems, such as the Berkeley campus of the Alta Bates Summit Medical Center, get vaccines directly from the state to administer to staff and patients.

  • A federal program using CVS/Walgreens vaccinates residents of participating skilled nursing facilities, assisted living facilities, and similar congregate care settings for older or medically vulnerable individuals.  

  • University Health Services, the health service for UC Berkeley, operates across multiple jurisdictions and administers its own limited supply.

  • Many health care workers who live or work in the City are vaccinated through their employer.

  • Most people with health care are expected to get vaccinated through their medical provider.

Large health care providers, such as Kaiser Permanente and Sutter Health, receive their own supply of vaccine from the state and are beginning to schedule appointments for members 75 and older:

  • Sutter Health patients who are health care workers or age 75 and older can schedule appointments through their website or by calling (844) 987-6115.

  • Kaiser Permanente has stated that they will contact members who are 75 and older directly when appointments are available. Kaiser Permanente members who are health care workers, emergency medical service providers, or long term care patients can schedule an e-visit to request a vaccine appointment.

Everyone will get the vaccine eventually, but it will take time
As federal supplies eventually increase, safe and effective Covid-19 vaccines will also be available to all free of charge.

Berkeley Public Health has thus far requested the maximum number of doses. Of the 1,100 doses received by the City, 1,013or 92 percenthad been administered as of last Fri., Jan. 15 using re-assigned City staff across all City departments. The City received about 2,500 additional doses of vaccine on Wed., Jan. 20 and is working to use the additional supply.

The current two vaccinesModerna and Pfizerare for adults (age 18+ for Moderna and age 16+ for Pfizer) and each require two doses to have roughly 95 percent efficacy.

All tools needed to end the pandemic
The virus continues to claim thousands of lives across the nation, but each vaccination helps to build up our community's resilience to the virus.

We still need to use all the tools the CDC has identified to fight this pandemic. All of us, including those who have received the required two shots of vaccine, still need to wear masks and avoid gatherings. According to the CDC, experts need to understand more about the protection that Covid-19 vaccines provide in real-world conditions before recommending different guidance. Other factors, including how many people get vaccinated and how the virus is spreading in communities, will also affect CDC guidance. We also don’t yet know whether getting a Covid-19 vaccine will prevent you from spreading the virus that causes Covid-19 to other people, even if you don’t get sick yourself.

Each time someone wears a mask, avoids a gathering, keeps distance from other households or gets a vaccine, they help protect our community.

Please reach out to your health care provider about how they are scheduling vaccinations. If you would like to receive information from the City of Berkeley as eligibility expands or appointments become available, sign up for the notification list.

COVID-19 vaccine information (City of Berkeley)
Vaccines (covid19.ca.gov)
COVID-19 Vaccine fact sheet (California Department of Public Health)
State's Vaccine Prioritization Framework to Shift
The state's Department of Public Health determines the prioritization for vaccine distribution. People at high risk of serious illness or at risk of being exposed at work are prioritized under the existing Vaccine Prioritization Framework below. However, the state is shifting to a simplified new framework after Phase 1b, Tier 1 (which includes individuals age 65+ and essential workers in the education/child care, emergency services, and food/agriculture sectors). The new framework is primarily an age-based prioritization—also displayed below—and will take effect statewide in mid-February.
State's Existing Vaccine Prioritization Framework
State's New Vaccine Prioritization Framework
Source: Oakland Town Hall on Covid-19 Vaccine with Alameda County Public Health Department and Mayor of Oakland Libby Schaaf, Thurs., Jan. 21, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9BEVf0YS4CI
Making Sense of California's Vaccine Rollout
Earlier this month, I grew increasingly alarmed by California's relatively low percent of Covid-19 doses used. The New York Times state-by-state vaccine dosage tracker, which reports on CDC vaccine data, shows California has used just 47 percent of doses received, ranking it a dismal 44 out of 50 states, as of today. However, the L.A. Times reported on Jan. 21 that the reason why the state appears to be underperforming is due to data lags and reporting challenges:

"Data reporting issues prompted groups representing counties and county health officials to warn Newsom in a letter Monday of 'significant data lags and reporting challenges that result in an underreporting of California’s progress' on how many doses have been administered." 

In other words, we don't know how California is performing in terms of the percent of doses used because the data being reported are unreliable.

The Jan. 18 letter sent to Governor Newsom by countiesincluding the California State Association of Counties, Urban Counties of California, Rural County Representatives of California, County Health Executives Association of California, and the Health Officers Association of California—gives us a real-time understanding of the challenges counties are facing in our vaccine rollout to date:

  • Timely Reporting. "Local health departments also believe there are significant data lags and reporting challenges that result in an underreporting of California’s progress. ... This leads to additional workload and administrative burden on vaccinating entities when attention should be focused on vaccination efforts. Lastly, local health departments have encountered providers that are not reporting in a timely manner because the system is overly complicated and burdensome."
  • Data Transparency. "It is important that the state and local health departments have a clear line of sight as to what is being allocated, received, and administered throughout the state so that we can identify when there are data inconsistencies and/or when vaccine is not being administered in a timely manner. This will allow further investigation and identification of the challenges and will allow for more improvement of the system." 
  • Vaccine Allocations. "As local health departments strive to ramp up vaccination efforts, local health departments need assurances that the vaccine allocations will be predictable, will continue to increase, and will be provided more than one week in advance."

On Jan. 19, I asked my Council colleagues to support my letter to the Governor calling for a level of urgency akin to a wartime mobilization, with $400 million in additional funding for local health departments and other recommendations. The Council unanimously supported the letter with some additions and changes. On Mon., Jan. 25, Governor Newsom announced a number of changes intended to improve the state's vaccine rollout.

I would have liked to have seen a smoother vaccine rollout, especially since we knew vaccines were on the horizon months in advance. But we also have to acknowledge that this is a public vaccination campaign unlike anything seen before in our lifetimes. I want to encourage all of us to keep the faith and keep practicing our health precautions as we await our turn to get vaccinated.
Brief Updates: Covid-19 Testing, Discussion on Teacher Housing at the Adult School, BART Community Meeting & More

Photo: City of Berkeley
  • The next Covid-19 Town Hall with Mayor Arreguín will take place on Mon., Feb. 1. Submit a question HERE.

  • Ashby & N. Berkeley BART Station Community Meeting #2 will be held on Mon., Feb. 8. More info and log-in information will be posted HERE.

  • Apply for the City's "Reimaging Public Safety Task Force" by Mon., Feb. 8. More info is available 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 GougingAnyone 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.
  • Double Helping Hands provides meals to the homeless from downtown Berkeley restaurants. You can make a donation HERE.

  • 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