LifeLong Medical volunteers administer drive-through COVID-19 testing at the West Berkeley Senior Center in May. Photo: Pete Rosos

Update, July 22: The third fatality took place July 12, according to data from Alameda County.

Original story: There have been three COVID-19 fatalities in Berkeley since April 8, new data from the city and county showed Tuesday.

As of Monday, one death had been reported in Berkeley since the first lab-confirmed coronavirus case was discovered Feb. 28. The city said Tuesday that there have been two other deaths as well, but limited information has been provided.

On Tuesday evening, the city said the increase was due, at least in part, to changes at the state level regarding where deaths are counted. Previously, deaths were assigned to the patient’s jurisdiction of permanent residence. But that recently changed, said Berkeley spokesman Matthai Chakko.

Berkeley’s first known coronavirus fatality, a person in their 4os with an underlying health condition, took place April 8. One of the others took place May 21, according to data from Alameda County.

The person who died in May had been staying in Berkeley temporarily and their death was originally assigned to another jurisdiction. That person lived and died outside Berkeley, Chakko said. No further information, such as that person’s age range or possible other health conditions, was available as of publication time.

COVID-19 fatalities now count where they were diagnosed

The May death has now been assigned to Berkeley, Chakko said, because the state revised its guidelines so deaths are counted in the place where someone was diagnosed with COVID-19.

This change has had broad impacts on the classifications of people who died after staying in congregate facilities, Chakko said, such as prisons, campus housing and long-term care facilities.

Chakko said the third person who died was over 65 and had underlying health conditions.

As of Tuesday, the third fatality was not yet listed in the county dataset where Berkeley deaths are tracked, and the city has not said when it happened. (Berkeleyside has requested that information.)

Chakko said he could not share the gender of any of the Berkeley fatalities because of medical privacy laws.

“It’s such a small number, we have to be really careful about giving information that could identify the individual,” he said.

The city has a worker who is trained in those privacy laws, which are outlined in the state’s Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and has made the determination that more information cannot be shared, Chakko said.

Berkeleyside has reported previously on the deaths of two fatalities linked to skilled nursing facilities in Berkeley, one in May at Elmwood Care Center and one in July at Berkeley Pines. But the city has said it cannot comment on either of those deaths because of medical privacy laws, so it was not immediately clear whether those are the deaths the city is now reporting.

City: People must continue to take precautions

Chakko said three deaths may seem to some like a small number. But he said it’s important for community members to continue to take all the necessary precautions to stay healthy.

“People really need to understand the gravity of the threat we’re facing and we hope that they’ll take action,” he said. “We are in a global pandemic.”

Chakko said more people in Berkeley are going to be killed by COVID-19 because there is no effective treatment for it. The coronavirus has disproportionately impacted Black people and Latinos, he added, as well as people who are younger who think they have immunity.

“There’s no evidence of that that’s definitive. Everybody needs to take it seriously,” Chakko said. “These numbers are only scratching the surface of the threats that we face.”

In July, after staying relatively flat, Berkeley’s coronavirus cases doubled in three weeks, rising from 124 to 254 cases. As of Tuesday, Berkeley had 332 lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases.

Part of that increase has been due to expanded testing, but officials have said that does not explain it entirely. An average of 255 Berkeley residents are getting tested each day, and the city has a positivity rate of 2.2%.

Berkeleyside has been tracking local numbers and reporting them daily since March.

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...