The Elmwood Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in South Berkeley had one patient test positive for COVID-19. Photo: Pete Rosos

A patient who had been staying in Berkeley’s largest skilled nursing facility has tested positive for COVID-19.

On Monday, the city of Berkeley learned that the patient had tested positive for the disease, city spokesman Matthai Chakko said Tuesday afternoon in response to a Berkeleyside inquiry. It’s the first such case at a Berkeley senior facility since the coronavirus outbreak began.

“Using plans that staff had already developed in anticipation of such an instance, city staff immediately began an investigation to identify close contacts, to quarantine contacts and to test all residents and employees,” Chakko said Tuesday. Everyone in the facility will now be tested, he said.

Citing patient confidentiality, the city did not provide the name of the facility with the COVID-19 case. But community members identified the location as Elmwood Nursing and Rehabilitation Center at 2829 Shattuck Ave. (at Oregon Street). The facility is also known as Elmwood Care Center.

Terry McGregor, Elmwood’s executive vice president, said it had “recently transferred a patient to a local acute hospital who tested positive for COVID. That patient will not be returning to Elmwood and at the present time there are no COVID patients or staff members in the facility. All residents and family members have been notified of this situation.”

Elmwood is working closely with public health staff from the city and state “in the implementation of the appropriate protocols and next steps,” he said, and will continue to follow their guidance.

Elsewhere in the country, nursing homes and similar facilities have been epicenters for COVID-19 infections. The age and underlying health conditions of older people in group settings, plus the close proximity of their living quarters, have created prime breeding grounds for the spread of the virus.

Berkeley has five skilled nursing facilities and one long-term memory care facility: Ashby Care Center, Berkeley Pines Skilled Nursing Center, Chaparral House, Elmwood Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, Kyakameena Care Center and Silverado Berkeley Memory Care Community.

Together, the six sites include 418 residents and 297 staff members, according to the city. The Elmwood facility — which is in South Berkeley — is the largest of the bunch and has room for 77 patients.

In mid-March, on the recommendation of Dr. Lisa Hernandez, the city’s health officer, the city ended all personal visits — other than in the most exceptional cases — at all six of these senior facilities, Chakko said Tuesday.

A month later, the city issued strict new rules for these facilities, requiring anyone working inside them to wear a mask at all times and undergo symptom and temperature checks before entering.

“Staff wear masks at all times and residents must wear masks when outside their rooms,” Chakko said Tuesday.

Chakko said Berkeley Public Health staff has contact weekly, if not more often, with each senior health care facility in Berkeley. That includes a weekly telephone call joined by all six facilities.

As a result, he said, Berkeley has detailed information about each site including “patients, staff, patient monitoring, infection control plans, staffing support, protective equipment, training, signage and more.”

In early May, community members told Berkeleyside that city staff were on-site at Kyakameena bringing residents onto a patio for COVID-19 testing.

“It is an impressive remarkable picture of gowned and gloved Berkeley Public Health [staff] in action,” one local resident told Berkeleyside.

The city has declined to confirm the location of those tests but Chakko said Tuesday that staff “recently conducted a pilot test of everyone — including patients and employees — at a particular skilled nursing facility. The goal was to see if there were asymptomatic cases in that facility. The tests all came back negative.”

Chakko said Hernandez and a captain from the Berkeley Fire Department have visited each of the six senior facilities to meet with administrators, receive a tour and discuss health orders, among other work.

“The detail is so specific that Dr. Hernandez arrives with a floorplan already in hand,” he said.

Fire department and public health staff in the city’s emergency operations center, where Berkeley coordinates its COVID-19 response, have worked closely with the city’s senior health care facilities, Chakko said, “to assess their needs, help them prepare, and provide supplies” and personal protective gear if they need them.

One of the community members who alerted Berkeleyside to the Elmwood case said the patient was taken to a hospital late last week.

Chakko said he could not confirm that information, citing medical privacy laws, but cautioned that Monday’s COVID-19 case is unlikely to be the last of its kind in town.

“While we have been anticipating a positive case in one of the facilities, this was the first instance of such a case in Berkeley,” he said. “The nature of COVID-19 is that there is no treatment, and it is in our community, region and state. Our goal is to take action to limit the spread.”

As of Tuesday, 70 COVID-19 cases had been reported in Berkeley. There has been one confirmed death attributed to the disease.

Editor’s note: The story was updated immediately after publication to include a statement from Elmwood Care Center.

CORRECTION: This story originally misidentified one of the six sites and described the capacity as listed in state records. Berkeleyside updated the list and capacity on May 28 when the city provided the names and overall site capacity of the facilities.

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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...