The mobile testing site set up on the patio at Strawberry Creek Lodge in Berkeley. Photo: Asha Beene-Clarke

Over a period of three days last week, about 90 residents of Strawberry Creek Lodge left their apartments to get tested for COVID-19. But instead of venturing to a testing center, they only had to travel a few feet — to their complex’s outdoor patio.

That’s because one of Berkeley’s coronavirus testing facilities has gone mobile. After the state of California opened a testing site on June 8 at Martin Luther King Jr. Youth Center at 1730 Oregon St., officials decided to convert some of the operations of the city-run testing site in West Berkeley.

“We’re taking our site mobile and making it more available,” said Deputy City Manager Paul Buddenhagen.

The site on Oregon Street will become the “hub” for Berkeley, he said. Anyone who lives or works in Berkeley can get a test there, even if they don’t have symptoms. It is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.

The city-run site in West Berkeley, which was mainly testing first responders and people experiencing homelessness, will continue to operate, but with additional capacity. The new mobile unit will go to senior facilities, like Strawberry Creek Lodge on Addison Street, as well as skilled nursing facilities, to directly test residents who may not be as mobile. Berkeley plans to test members of these vulnerable populations regularly.

About 7,908 Berkeley residents have been tested for COVID-19, with a 1.9% positive rate, according to statistics gathered by Berkeleyside. There have been 132 reported cases in Berkeley, with one death reported.

COVID-19 data for Berkeley as of June 25, compiled by Berkeleyside. See full data

Strawberry Creek Lodge and Berkeley’s Public Health Department have been working closely together since the start of the pandemic, said Cristi Ritschel, the vice-president of resident services for Satellite Affordable Housing Associates (SAHA), which runs numerous affordable housing buildings in Berkeley. The partnership has been helpful — the organizations keep each on speed dial.

“There is a willingness to be available and flexible and a willingness to problem-solve together,” said Ritschel.

When the coronavirus emerged, the public health department distributed face masks, hand sanitizer and flyers with information about social distancing to the 850 people living in SAHA housing, she said.

Two residents at Strawberry Creek Lodge tested positive for COVID-19, one in April and one in May, and the public health department was helpful in educating them, and those running the facility, about self-isolating, she said. Both have recovered.

people with masks standing around table
Mobile testing at Strawberry Creek Lodge. Photo: Asha Beene-Clarke

The public health department tried to make testing for those living at Strawberry Creek Lodge as easy as possible. They put together a flyer explaining what the test would be like. They offered residents a choice of appointments over three days. The city set up the tests on an outdoor patio, laid down blue painter’s tape to demarcate six-feet social distancing intervals, set up chairs where residents could wait and had cups for clean pens and cups for pens that had been touched, said  Ritschel. Those getting tested could choose to do a throat or nasal swab.

“It was very smooth and the residents were grateful the process was straightforward,” she said.

About 150 people live at Strawberry Creek Lodge and 87 were tested, according to a report City Manager Dee Wiliams-Ridley made June 22 to the city council. A few of the residents’ caretakers were tested too.

The public health department got back to each resident within 48 to 72 hours.

No one tested positive.

In addition to testing those at the Lodge, the public health department tested 14 Berkeley residents with disabilities last week, said Williams-Ridley. Having a mobile facility is also making it easier to test caretakers.

“By sending testing to our skilled nursing facilities, we are able to test more staff — the majority of whom take public transit to get to work,” she wrote. “We’ll be continuing this work by testing all six skilled nursing and long-term care facilities in monthly testing of their staff, until each facility has the capacity to do this independently.”

Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman...