Kyakameena Care Center was the first skilled nursing facility in Berkeley to have site-wide COVID-19 testing. It was part of a pilot program earlier this month. No one tested positive. Photo: Pete Rosos

Berkeley has pledged to complete COVID-19 testing for all residents and staff in the city’s six skilled nursing and long-term care facilities as part of an effort to limit the spread of coronavirus in a population known to be among the most vulnerable to the deadly disease, officials announced this week.

Testing at two of those facilities has already been completed, and it began at a third site this week, staff has said. Together, the six sites have 294 beds and 382 staff members, according to the state.

“I’m so happy this is happening,” Councilmember Kate Harrison told Berkeleyside on Thursday. She and Councilmember Susan Wengraf worked together to urge the city to speed up COVID-19 testing at senior health care facilities following the discovery last week of two cases at the 77-bed Elmwood Care Center. To date, these are the only two infections that have been identified in this segment of the Berkeley population.

On Saturday, the city’s health officer, Dr. Lisa Hernandez, announced publicly for the first time that the city was working to test everyone in its six senior health care facilities. She said testing would be finished in June, and that staff at each site would be trained to conduct COVID-19 tests on an ongoing basis to monitor for infections after that.

Hernandez said testing had wrapped up Saturday morning at Elmwood, and that 40% of the tests for the entire program had been completed.

By the end of next week, the city says it will test all remaining residents and staff at its senior health care facilities, including Silverado Berkeley Memory Care Community. Photo: Pete Rosos

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.

In early May, the city completed testing at Kyakameena in a pilot program and later reported that no one there tested positive for COVID-19. (The city has not identified the pilot location by name, but Berkeleyside confirmed it with community members who witnessed the testing underway.)

The city has also not said which facility would be tested this week, citing privacy concerns.

In an email to city officials Wednesday night, which the city shared with Berkeleyside by request, City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley said Berkeley is “on an accelerated pace to test all residents and staff, regardless of symptoms” at all six sites.

Testing for residents will be handled “by a combination of Lifelong, Kaiser Permanente, and City staff,” Williams-Ridley wrote, while “Employees will be tested at the Berkeley test site.”

As part of the program, nurses at each facility will be trained to test residents themselves, she wrote, in collaboration with city staff and health care providers. After June 4, new guidance from the California Department of Public Health requires skilled nursing facilities to test 100% of staff and residents each month and report the results to the state, she wrote.

City staff has been in close contact with all six facilities regularly throughout the pandemic to ensure the safety of those sites, Williams-Ridley wrote.

“This close work with these facilities has been years in the making, but has intensified in the past few months as Berkeley Public Health and the facilities have developed protocols, practices and other preparations for potential COVID-19 cases,” the city manager wrote. “The goal is to develop procedures that limit potential exposures — such as the ending of visits — and to also act quickly to identify cases and limit spread through identification, investigation, quarantine and isolation.”

As of Thursday, there had been 90 COVID-19 cases in Berkeley since the first infection was reported on Feb. 28. One person had died.

If you have experience with any of Berkeley’s senior health facilities that is related to its response to COVID-19, Berkeleyside would love to hear from you.

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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...