Berkeley has one confirmed case of COVID-19, a new coronavirus. Image: CDC

Update, 6:05 p.m. The person who tested positive for COVID-19 is in his or her mid-30s, has a mild case and is recovering at home in Berkeley, according to Dr. Lisa Hernandez, Berkeley’s health officer. The individual had stayed mostly at home after returning from Italy on Feb. 23 but went to see a medical professional on Monday. That professional alerted the city of Berkeley immediately about a suspected case of coronavirus and the city was able to use a local public health lab to get test results. The results came back late Monday night, said Hernandez. The city issued a press release around 3 p.m. Tuesday.

Berkeley health officials have interviewed the patient and are determining whether he or she may have exposed others, she said. The person is not affiliated with UC Berkeley, the university announced. The city’s health department will alert anyone who might have been exposed, said Matthai Chakko, city spokesman. The health department has done that kind of work many times for other diseases, including measles and tuberculosis, he said.

The city of Berkeley is not releasing the sex of the patient but is releasing the age so people in that age group can be more aware of potential exposure, the officials said.

Hernandez said the public should expect to see many more cases of COVID-19 and should prepare.

“Looking at the behavior of this virus, we do expect more cases,” said Hernandez. (Scroll down for links about how individuals and businesses can prepare).

“People need to begin preparing for wider spread,” said Chakko.

Those preparations will probably be disruptive. It’s one thing to wash one’s hands frequently or do elbow bumps. People should start thinking about what to do if their child care gets canceled, a child gets sick, or work advises people to stay away.

“This is the time to think about it — when it’s not happening,” said Chakko. “The time to prepare is right now.”

However, an online petition that has more than 4,000 signatures calling for UC Berkeley to close is misguided, said Hernandez.

“It’s not necessary,” she said.

Chakko also warned that there is a lot of misinformation swirling around and people should turn to reliable news sources or official agencies for correct advice.

“We do have a lot of misinformation,” he said. “People are making up medical advice. People are coming up with conspiracy theories.”

Update, 4:43 p.m. The patient who tested positive for COVID-19 had been in Italy, the city now reports. Stay tuned for updates.

Original story, 3:09 p.m. A patient in Berkeley has tested positive for COVID-19, a new coronavirus, authorities reported Tuesday afternoon.

According to the city, the patient returned on Feb. 23 to Berkeley “from one of the growing number of countries with a COVID-19 outbreak.” The city did not say when the patient tested positive or which country they had come from.

“Concerned about being exposed through travel, the resident largely stayed at home in a voluntary self-imposed quarantine,” according to the city notice.

“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 Berkeley’s health officer 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.”

The city says it will hold a “Twitter town hall” with Hernandez on Friday, March 6, starting at noon. Community members will be able to ask Hernandez questions online during the one-hour session: “Tweet your questions to us @CityofBerkeley using the hashtag #BerkCOVID19, or use an online form to submit anonymously.”

Berkeleyside has asked city staff for additional details and will update this story if they are provided.

On Monday, the Berkeley Unified School District sent a message to families about how it is responding to COVID-19.

Read the complete notice from the city of Berkeley. It was published just before 3 p.m. and appears below in full.

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 homechild care or K-12 schoolcollege, 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.

Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist of the Year...