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Beyond statistics: Remembering lives lost to COVID-19 in Berkeley

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ETHAN LEJANO | STAFF

Since the emergence of the pandemic, 35 deaths related to COVID-19 have occurred in Berkeley. According to the city’s COVID-19 dashboard, there have been 3,306 total confirmed cases in the city as of press time.

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Deputy News Editor

MARCH 11, 2021

Devoted parents and cherished friends were among the 35 people who died from COVID-19 in Berkeley over the course of the pandemic. Some were pioneers in their respective fields, and others were passionate social workers with bright futures ahead of them.

The city of Berkeley saw its first spike of 21 new and confirmed cases of COVID-19 in July 2020, according to the city of Berkeley’s COVID-19 dashboard.

This was followed by a smaller spike Sept. 10, with 17 new cases reported, which signified people returning to the city and UC Berkeley, according to Lee Riley, campus professor and head of the School of Public Health’s division of infectious diseases and vaccinology.

These initial spikes paled in comparison to those that would come in the following months.

Berkeley saw its next spike in cases in late November, with 63 new cases reported Nov. 18, according to the dashboard. Several weeks later, the city experienced a sharp increase, with 56 and 48 new cases reported Dec. 4 and Dec. 11, respectively.

Throughout January and February, Berkeley experienced another surge in COVID-19 cases. On Jan. 5, the city reported 68 cases — the highest number of cases reported in a day since the start of the pandemic, according to the dashboard.

Each of these spikes represented a period of time when people were on holidays or otherwise congregating, according to Riley.

“Whenever people travel and gather with families, that creates an opportunity for people to come into close contact with and transmit the virus,” Riley said. “What’s going on in Berkeley is just a microcosm of what’s happening in California and also in the U.S.”

The number of new cases per day has since gone down, with 10 new cases reported Feb. 25, according to the dashboard. As of press time, Berkeley’s COVID-19 death toll stands at 35, with 3,306 total confirmed cases reported.

These numbers, however, fail to fully capture the stories of those whose lives were taken by the virus.

Sarah Roncskevitz, a medical social worker who worked in the emergency room at Kaiser Permanente, passed away in May 2020 due to COVID-19 complications. A UC Berkeley School of Social Welfare alumna, she left behind two young children, a fiance and her family.

“I was extremely tearful for days after hearing about (Roncskevitz’s passing),” said Greg Merrill, the director of field education at the UC Berkeley School of Social Welfare. “Normally, there’s grief, but just the intensity of that and the amount of people that were touched by her; it was very striking.”

Kelly Crocker, a registered nurse at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center, recalled how her memories of Roncskevitz came flooding back upon finding out about her passing.

Crocker met Roncskevitz while an inpatient at New Bridge Foundation, a rehabilitation center in Berkeley. Roncskevitz was a counseling intern there.

“She radiated kindness, radiated warmth and was completely nonjudgemental,” Crocker said. “She had such a way about her, that she was able to get people to open up.”

Stuart “Stu” Bowyer, campus professor emeritus of astronomy who was heavily involved in the Berkeley SETI Research Center, died at the age of 86 due to complications associated with COVID-19. Dan Werthimer, Berkeley SETI Research Center chief technologist, learned of “Stu” Bowyer’s passing through an email sent by one of Bowyer’s students.

Immediately, a group of friends and colleagues began exchanging fun stories and memories of Bowyer. Rather than mourning, Werthimer said he focused on celebrating Bowyer’s life.

“He was kind of a live life large, colorful guy … he really pushed hard on provocative ideas,” Werthimer said, who worked with Bowyer first as a graduate student at UC Berkeley in the 1980s and took over SETI after Bowyer’s retirement.

Leo Goodman, campus professor emeritus of statistics and sociology, died at age 92 due to COVID-19 in December 2020. For Trond Petersen, campus professor of sociology and executive associate dean of the College of Letters and Science, Goodman’s passing felt “dry and sudden.”

The two had long been friends and colleagues, and Petersen reflected on the many orchestra, opera and chamber music performances they attended together.

Petersen noted that while the sociology community at UC Berkeley is still mourning the loss of Goodman, who was highly esteemed both as a scholar and human being, he finds comfort knowing that Goodman led a long and rewarding life.

“I don’t think there were things in his life that he needed to close, any loose threads,” Petersen said. “That gives me comfort.”

Corrections: A previous version of this article misspelled Trond Petersen.
Contact Iris Kwok at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @iriskkwok.
LAST UPDATED

MARCH 12, 2021


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