Berkeley, a city on lockdown since March 17, reported its first COVID-19 death April 9. Photo: Pete Rosos

A Berkeley resident in their 40s has died of COVID-19, the city of Berkeley announced Thursday afternoon.

The resident, who had been hospitalized, died Wednesday, said city spokesman Matthai Chakko.

“This first Berkeley resident to die from COVID-19 had underlying health problems, which data shows makes people more likely to suffer severe illness from this new coronavirus,” according to a prepared statement from the city. “People over 60 are also more susceptible to severe illness, but the virus affects all ages.”

Chakko said the city is able to share age and underlying health condition status because those are risk factors that won’t reveal the person’s identity. But the city will not be sharing the patient’s sex: “Gender is not a risk factor,” he said.

There is no treatment for COVID-19, the city said Thursday, noting that staying at home as much as possible is the “most powerful antidote” to limit infection.

As of Thursday, Berkeley had tallied 34 total cases of lab-confirmed COVID-19, including 24 people who had recovered. On Wednesday, the city said eight people had been hospitalized as the infection spread, including five who went into the ICU.

According to the city, the patient who died “appears to have gotten the virus in the community,” rather than through direct contact with someone known to have been infected.

“The virus has been spreading in silent ways through our community, a key factor prompting Berkeley’s Health Officer and six others to declare a shelter-in-place on March 16,” the city said. “An invisible threat, the COVID-19 virus can be carried and spread by apparently healthy people. It can move onto objects they touch. It travels through the air by sneezing, coughing or just talking near another person.”

Because COVID-19 is so infectious, the city has advised everyone to “wear a cloth face covering over their nose and mouth when in any public setting where you cannot maintain 6-feet of space, including grocery stores and pharmacies.” Anyone “may be unknowing carriers of this deadly virus,” the city said Thursday.

In the prepared statement, Mayor Jesse Arreguín expressed his condolences to the family of the patient who died.

“I am deeply saddened at the news of the first COVID-19 death in Berkeley,” Arreguín said. “We all have the power to reduce the spread of this virus – and the deaths and heartache it creates. We all must follow the shelter in place order to protect ourselves, our neighbors, friends, family, and those most at risk. Together, we can get through these difficult times.”

Alameda County as a whole, including Berkeley, now has 17 lab-confirmed fatalities from COVID-19. The county had reported 640 cases outside Berkeley as of Wednesday. County figures for Thursday had not been updated as of publication time.

COVID-19 lab-confirmed cases and deaths in Alameda County as of April 8. Source: Berkeleyside

Approximately 4,400 COVID-19 cases have been reported in the Bay Area, with 117 fatalities, according to online records reviewed daily by Berkeleyside. Statewide, there have been about 19,100 cases and 506 deaths.

“This tragic death is a reminder that none of us can afford to dismiss the threat from this disease,” said Dr. Lisa Hernandez, Berkeley’s health officer. “It can affect anyone – with consequences as severe as death. We will never know how this person could have contributed to our community over the decades of life they should have had.”

“This death is also a sad reminder of the urgency to shelter in place,” she said.

Protect yourself and others

The city has shared a list of “steps everyone can take to make our whole community safer”; they appear below as the city provided them:

  • Stay home. Leave only for essential needs.
  • If you’re sick, stay home entirely. Leave only to get medical care, and call first before visiting a health care facility.
  • Stay at least 6 feet away from other people when out.
  • Cover your nose and mouth when you leave home.
  • Practice everyday healthy behaviors: -Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds -When soap and water aren’t available, use an alcohol based hand sanitizer -Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue or your elbow. -Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces like doorknobs, light switches, phones, countertops, and tables daily.

Find more resources on the city website.

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...