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Press Contact: Matthai Chakko, (510) 981-7008

AS COVID-19 CASES INCREASE IN REGION, HEALTH OFFICER RECOMMENDS LIMITING MASS GATHERINGS 
Recommendation from City of Berkeley Health Officer Dr. Lisa Hernandez

Berkeley, California (Tuesday, March 10, 2020) - As the City of Berkeley’s Health Officer, I urge that people in Berkeley, especially older adults or those with chronic diseases, take steps to limit attendance at mass gatherings in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19 cases.

I am also recommending that event organizers postpone or cancel non-essential mass gatherings and large community events where large numbers of people are within arm’s length of one another. I especially urge cancellation or postponement of mass gatherings intended for older adults and those with chronic health conditions. This does not include typical office environments, stores, school, colleges, or universities.

These measures are for everyone to take, and they help the unprecedented efforts of public health workers to slow the spread. Though we are not seeing it here, several Bay Area counties are now seeing confirmed cases of community spread – COVID-19 infections where there is no known exposure to someone with this coronavirus or travel to an outbreak area.

Berkeley Public Health now has two cases, including oversight of a COVID-19 patient who was brought to a regional hospital from the Grand Princess Cruise Ship. Though we do not have any laboratory-confirmed cases of community spread of COVID-19 in Berkeley or Alameda County, we are taking proactive measures to limit that occurrence.

We weighed the potential benefits for the community’s health along with potentially disruptive impacts for event organizers and attendees. These recommendations are being made in coordination with Alameda County’s Health Officer, Dr. Erica Pan.

While the vast majority of COVID-19 patients do not become seriously ill, and fully recover, these recommendations are being issued to slow the spread, and further protect the most vulnerable.

The time to act is now. These measures have the power to slow the virus’ spread.

Recommendations for high-risk groups

Health Officer Guidance for those in high-risk categories

Stay away from crowded social gatherings as much as possible, such as parades, conferences, sporting events, and concerts where large numbers of people are within arm’s length of one another.

Definition of high-risk categories

  • People over 60 years-old, with risk escalating with age. Those over age 80 are in the highest risk group.
  • Regardless of age, people with underlying health conditions, including cardiovascular disease, severely weakened immune systems, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, or chronic lung diseases like COPD.

For organizers of mass gatherings

Cancelling non-essential events

  • At this time, we recommend postponing or canceling non-essential mass gatherings and large community events where large numbers of people are within arm’s length of one another.
  • Cancel or postpone mass gatherings intended for older adults and those with chronic health conditions.
  • They do not include typical office environments, stores, school, colleges, or universities.

Non-essential means events or meetings that are not critical for operations of business or entity. At this time, organizations have discretion to determine essential functions.

Factors when considering event cancellation or postponement:

  • 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

At events you can’t cancel

  • Urge anyone who is sick to not attend.
  • Encourage those who are at higher risk for serious illness to not attend.
  • Try to find ways to give people more physical space so that they aren’t in close contact as much as possible.
  • Encourage attendees to follow good hygiene, such as:
  • Washing their 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 their eyes, nose, and mouth
  • Covering cough or sneeze into their elbow or with a tissue, which should promptly be disposed.
  • Clean surfaces with standard cleaners.

Guidance for Schools

  • The City of Berkeley is not recommending closing any schools at this time.
  • If a staff member or student in a specific school is confirmed to have COVID-19, Berkeley Public Health will consider, based on the specific facts and circumstances of that case, whether closure of that school is warranted. The reason we are not recommending school closures at this time is because there are no lab-confirmed cases of community spread in Berkeley and children have not been shown to be a high-risk group for serious illness from this virus. As much as possible, children should be allowed to carry on with their education activities.
  • We encourage all school officials to carefully review and follow the CDC’s guidance for K-12 schools and childcare centers, as well as the California Department of Public Health’s recommendations for mass gatherings and large events. We are aware that schools in our community may need to make decisions about postponement or cancelation of specific activities.
  • Consider alternatives to congregate or group programming within the school including any large or communal activities such as assemblies.
  • Alternate approaches which limit close contact may include conducting assemblies via webcasts or intercom announcements.
  • Some children have underlying health conditions, such as weakened immune systems, that put them at higher risk. Caregivers of children with underlying health conditions should consult with healthcare providers about whether their children should stay home.

While I am providing public health guidance for the City of Berkeley, individuals with personal health care questions should contact their provider.

Each of us has a role to play in limiting the spread of COVID-19. That starts with personal hygiene. Understanding how you can limit participation in mass gatherings is the next step.

In Berkeley, we are still relatively early in the spread of COVID-19. I anticipate that more changes will be needed in the weeks and months to come.

Dr. Lisa Hernandez
City of Berkeley Health Officer

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