First COVID-19 case in Berkeley is a reminder to prepare

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March 3, 2020

City of Berkeley News

First COVID-19 case in Berkeley is a reminder to prepare

City of Berkeley Health Officer Dr. Lisa Hernandez announced Tuesday that a resident tested positive for COVID-19, a new coronavirus spreading around the world and for which everyone should prepare locally.


The resident returned to Berkeley on Feb. 23 from one of the growing number of countries with a COVID-19 outbreak. Concerned about being exposed through travel, the resident largely stayed at home in a voluntary self-imposed quarantine.


The City of Berkeley has its own public health jurisdiction, and Berkeley Public Health is investigating whether the individual had contact with others. Individuals potentially exposed will be identified, notified and evaluated. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and California Department of Public Health (CDPH) are providing guidance on risk exposure and management for the new case. In addition, City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley on Tuesday at noon proclaimed a local emergency, which allows the City to marshal more resources to prepare for any additional cases.


“While the risk of infection remains low, the expanded presence of the virus in our community is a reality we should all prepare for,” said Dr. Lisa Hernandez. “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.”


Act now, prepare for the future


The virus is so new that there are no approved medications, nor a vaccine. Responses without medications are essential:

  • wash your hands often with soap and water
  • stay home when sick
  • don't touch your face with unwashed hands
  • cover coughs with a tissue or your elbow

Practicing these everyday behaviors will slow the spread of the disease. These acts are the most impactful action you can take right now.


Patients with confirmed COVID-19 infection have experienced mild to severe respiratory illness with symptoms such as fever, cough, and shortness of breath. It appears to cause less severe illness in younger people; those with more significant impacts tend to be older and medically fragile individuals with underlying medical conditions.


“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,” said Mayor Jesse Arreguín. “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.”


Looking ahead


As the virus spreads, the need for “social distancing” increases. On a personal level, that might mean an end to handshakes. During a widespread outbreak, social distancing could mean cancellation of large events or even schools. Those actions have already been taking place in various countries abroad.   While these large-scale closures are not currently in place in Berkeley, it is good to be prepared if they are introduced.


To help, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has prepared COVID-19 toolkits to help you prepare your home, childcare or K-12 school, college, or workplace.


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


Rely on trusted information sources


There is a lot of misinformation circulating about COVID-19 on social media. Do not believe everything you read. Rely on trusted health authorities, including World Health Organization (WHO), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), California Department of Public Health (CDPH), and City of Berkeley Public Health.


See our dedicated COVID-19 webpage, to learn about the preventive measures we recommend, what symptoms to look for, and what to do if you get sick. As this situation develops, we will continue to update this page with the most current information and recommendations.


Twitter town hall with Berkeley’s Health Officer


Our Health Officer, Dr. Lisa Hernandez, will answer your questions about the health aspects of COVID-19 during a one-hour Twitter town hall starting at noon Friday, March 6.


Tweet your questions to us @CityofBerkeley using the hashtag #BerkCOVID19, or use an online form to submit anonymously.


Dr. Hernandez will answer as many questions as possible during the town hall, and we will post responses to all the questions we receive on our COVID-19 webpage next week.

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