City health officer announces 1st case of COVID-19 in Berkeley

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Updated 3/3/2020: This article has been updated with information from a Berkeley Unified School District press release.

Updated 3/3/2020: This article has been updated with information from a UC Berkeley campuswide email.

The city of Berkeley released a press release Tuesday announcing its first case of COVID-19, more colloquially known as coronavirus.

The announcement was made by Berkeley health officer Dr. Lisa Hernandez, the press release stated. A Berkeley resident tested positive for COVID-19 after returning to Berkeley on Feb. 23 from “one of the growing number of countries with a COVID-19 outbreak.”

The resident was concerned about being exposed through travel and remained at home in voluntary self-imposed quarantine, according to the press release.

An email sent to all UC Berkeley students, staff and faculty Tuesday said the individual diagnosed with COVID-19 has no affiliation with campus.

“We understand that news of a confirmed case within the city of Berkeley is unsettling,” the email said. “Please keep in mind that the risk to anyone in the general U.S. population remains low, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, also responded to the city’s press release. In BUSD’s press release, Superintendent Brent Stephens outlined an update on cleaning practices. The update included confirmation of current cleaning practices and increased actions of daily disinfection within all schools, along with additional time for daily cleaning of all district buses.

BUSD’s Executive Cabinet discussed contingencies Tuesday in the event of further spread of COVID-19 in the community, the press release added. The cabinet is also meeting with the city of Berkeley and health department staff this week and are in “constant contact” with public health and education agencies.

Stephens stated in the press release that BUSD will continue to share details of further plans as they are developed under the guidance of health agencies and the California Department of Education.

“In the event that there are additional traceable cases in the East Bay, BUSD will continue to actively monitor all guidance to schools,” the BUSD press release added.

The city has its own public health jurisdiction. Berkeley Public Health is currently investigating if the resident has been in contact with other individuals, and those who have been potentially exposed to COVID-19 will be identified, notified and evaluated.

City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley proclaimed a local emergency at noon Tuesday. This proclamation allows the city to marshal additional resources to prepare for more cases. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, and the California Department of Public Health are providing guidance on risk exposure and management.

“While the risk of infection remains low, the expanded presence of the virus in our community is a reality we should all prepare for,” Hernandez said in the press release. “There are steps that all of us in the community can take now to improve basic hygiene and also prepare for a wider spread in the future.”

The press release also provided a list of health responses and a description of how to prepare for the future and advised the community to rely on “trusted information sources”.

The city advises that because there are no approved medications or a vaccine for the disease, people should wash their hands often with soap and water, stay at home when sick, not touch faces with unwashed hands and cover coughs with a tissue or elbow. The need for an increased “social distancing” was also advised, including preparation for the cancellation of large events and schools.

“The City activated its EOC over a month ago to prepare for this kind of case, and staff will be doing more as more cases emerge,” Mayor Jesse Arreguín said in the press release. “The best thing people can do is follow medical advice from our Health Officer and the CDC: act now to improve hygiene and prepare for the future.”

The CDC is helping by providing prepared COVID-19 toolkits for homes, child care and K-12 schools, colleges and workplaces.

The city also has a dedicated COVID-19 webpage to inform about recommended preventive measures, what symptoms to look for and what to do in the event of contracting the disease.

The city will continue to update this page with information and recommendations, the press release added. Hernandez will be answering questions about the health aspects of COVID-19 during a one-hour Twitter town hall starting at noon March 6. There is an anonymous online form as well, and submissions and responses will be posted on the webpage in the upcoming week.

The campus will be updating this website with more information as the situation progresses, as well as with recommendations for the community. Campus leaders are meeting intermittently to monitor the situation, the email said, and are working to prevent the disease’s spread.

“The more people that prepare, the more resilient we’ll be as a community,” Hernandez said in the press release. “Individual actions collectively also help the most vulnerable, especially the elderly or those with chronic respiratory issues.”

Thao Nguyen is a deputy news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @tnguyen_dc.