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Bay Area Headlines: Monday, 3/23/20, PM


Free COVID-19 tests in Hayward / Park visitation problems / Proposed ballot measures stymied

Free COVID-19 tests in Hayward

Good news for East Bay residents and health centers: a new free COVID19 testing center is opening in Hayward. The goal is to take pressure off of emergency rooms. The center plans to test about 350 people per day. It will focus on those who are sick or suspect they have been exposed, as well as first responders and health care workers. The City of Hayward says people can expect to receive their test results in as early as 6 hours, or the next day for most cases.

A representative for the city said that as of this morning the testing has been orderly, with a few dozen people showing up to be screened. They said the screening process can be done inside the car. Once approved, patients will park and go to a testing tent.

The center is open to anyone regardless of where they live or immigration status. It’s located at Hayward fire station #7 on Huntington Avenue. We’ll have a link to the location and more information at KALW.org.

Park visitation problems

Bay Area residents heard they could be outside despite shelter-in-place regulations, and this weekend they just took off running with it. 
Parks around the Bay Area reported huge increases in visitation this weekend, which was dangerous for the social distancing we’re all required to do now. Even anecdotally, KALW staff members saw lots of people on Ocean Beach and on trails at Point Reyes.

In the East Bay, the Berkeley and Oakland parks’ parking lots and trails were really crowded. The General Manager of the East Bay Regional Park District, Bob Doyle, told the San Francisco Chronicle, yesterday, that in his 45 years of work at the parks, he’d never see visitation like this.

So some parks are starting to close because that overcrowding means people aren’t social-distancing. Marin closed its county parks. Point Reyes closed a lot of the seashore. Golden Gate National Recreation Area, San Francisco’s city parks, and the East Bay Regional Parks are still open to visitors but building facilities are closed. More closures could be coming.

Dave Mason from East Bay Regional Parks says while people clearly want to get outdoors for stress relief, the district is concerned about overcrowding and the ability to maintain social distancing, so it’s considering closing some trails and parking areas this upcoming weekend. This means again, no group gatherings in parks right now. No picnics. East Bay Parks is asking for dogs to be kept on leash now even in off-leash areas. Mason says because parks are running on limited staffing right now, visitors should be self-reliant, bringing their own water and hand sanitizer, and packing out their trash. And that includes dog poop!  He says, it’s safer for park staff to not have to pick up that trash right now.

The guidelines are to stay six feet away from people you don’t live with right now. One way to do that is to go to a less popular park or outdoor area. Find places with wide trails and sidewalks. Mason says, the East Bay Regional Park District needs the public’s help right now to maintain safe social distance so that the parks can stay open.

Proposed ballot measures stymied

Governor Gavin Newsom’s March 19th order has thwarted all non-essential public contact. That includes signature gatherers who help get measures on the ballot when we vote. These measures often impact housing laws, small business, and homeless services.

Yesterday, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that even before the ban, it was hard to get people to sign. Fred Kimball who owns a company that runs petitions across the state, told the Chronicle that “These are tough times and you have to get creative.”

For him that meant buying some 300,000 pens so everyone who wanted to sign could have their own. Now, with the shelter in place in full force, collecting signatures is a thing of the past.

The official deadline for qualifying initiatives is June 25, but the real deadline is much earlier since counties need several weeks to count and verify those signatures. Whether the state has plans to relax the laws in light of current circumstances remains to be seen.