Number of Berkeley COVID-19 cases likely affected by insufficient testing

Nicole White/File

Related Posts

The number of COVID-19 cases in the city of Berkeley, which is expected to increase, is 95 with one death as of press time.

Overall, Alameda County has a total of 3,375 cases, along with 95 deaths, according to the Alameda County COVID-19 Dashboard. As of press time, the city in Alameda County with the most cases is Oakland, with 1,229 cases. The city of Sunol has zero cases, according to the dashboard.

“Overall, Berkeley has been doing better than many California cities,” said John Swartzberg, UC Berkeley professor of public health, in an email. “Alameda county has a case-rate of about 200/100,000 residents. Berkeley has a case-rate of about 80/100,000.”

Berkeley has the second-lowest rate in Alameda County, according to Lee Riley, UC Berkeley professor of epidemiology and infectious diseases.

Within the city of Berkeley, total cases have varied significantly by ZIP code. 94703, Berkeley’s second-largest ZIP code, has 37 cases, making it the hardest hit area relative to the number of residents. The Berkeley Hills have been largely unaffected by COVID-19, with each area having too few cases to report, according to the dashboard.

The ZIP codes that include Downtown and UC Berkeley, 94704 and 94720, have 11 cases and too few to report, respectively. ZIP codes in South Berkeley, which have larger minority populations according to data from the U.S. ZIP code Database, have more cases than the rest of the city.

“The highest incidence is occurring in communities with a high proportion of people of color,” Riley said in an email. “These are the communities public health measures need to target to interrupt transmission.”

Swartzberg said the emerging number of cases in Berkeley has trended upward in recent weeks, which he thinks could be attributed to the increase in testing. He also said he thinks that Berkeley is not conducting sufficient testing.

Berkeley public health officer Lisa Hernandez acknowledged that the city has not reached its ideal goal of conducting 245 tests per day at a town hall Saturday. According to Hernandez, 2,776 tests have been conducted on Berkeley residents and have resulted in a positive rate of 3.4%. Tests have also been conducted on all residents and employees at four of the city’s six skilled nursing facilities.

According to Hernandez, Berkeley is currently working with the county and the state to open up a second testing site, which would expand the program to people who are infected but do not have symptoms.

Riley said the COVID-19 test is not very sensitive, however, and likely misses many cases, particularly instances of infection in which people do not yet show symptoms.

The fact that Berkeley is one of the few Californian cities that has its own health department has likely helped the city through the pandemic, Swartzberg added.

Contact Mattias Hoz and Tarunika Kapoor at [email protected].