The start of a race at Golden Gate Fields in 2013. Photo: Kaia Diringer

More than 200 people from the Golden Gate Fields racetrack community in Berkeley and Albany have contracted COVID-19, according to a new statement officials released early Friday evening.

The city of Berkeley and 1/ST Racing, the company that operates Golden Gate Fields, released a joint statement just after 6 p.m. to share additional information about the outbreak, which became public earlier this week.

On Thursday, Berkeley’s total case count jumped overnight by more than 100 cases, which was the largest single-day spike by far since the COVID-19 pandemic began. (New case counts often reflect test results from multiple dates in the past.) The city said the bulk of the increase was related to a single outbreak and that numerous test results were still pending.

Golden Gate Fields is located on the Berkeley-Albany border and includes the racetrack, which is in Albany, and the barn area in Berkeley, where hundreds of people who care for the track’s 1,300 horses live. Approximately 500 people work at Golden Gate Fields, from the “backside” workers to those who are part of racing operations and “front of house.”

An estimated 200 people live rent-free on the property in simple, dorm-style housing attached to Golden Gate Field’s barns, several people who work at the racetrack told Berkeleyside on Friday. These grooms, riders, hot walkers (who cool down the horses) and other staff — who live and work in very close quarters — are employed by the 60 or so trainers at the race track.

Many of these so-called “horse people” come from families who have been in the industry for generations and have come to Berkeley from Mexico and Guatemala for the work. As for the trainers, many of them live in or come from the Central Valley.

Berkeleyside will be sharing more information from the workers in the coming days.

In Friday’s statement, officials described the Golden Gate Fields outbreak as “significant” and said that “more than 200 people living or working on-site at the racetrack have tested positive for COVID-19.” 1/ST Racing “is following all of the City’s recommendations for testing, quarantine and isolation.”

Officials said everyone who lives or works at the track has been tested, and that more testing will be done.

“All those who have tested positive are isolated off-site, following federal, state and City guidelines,” according to the statement. “The track is assisting with off-site housing for those who have tested positive and has arranged for twice daily food delivery to ensure that those individuals do not have to leave isolation and have the essential items they require.”

As of Friday, more than 1,000 people in Berkeley had tested positive for COVID-19 since the first case was reported in late February. The vast majority of Golden Gate Fields workers were tested Saturday and Sunday, workers told Berkeleyside. The city did not know as of publication time whether more test results from that effort remain outstanding.

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According to the people Berkeleyside interviewed Friday, those who are isolating off-site must pay for one-third of their accommodations. (A racetrack representative disputed that assertion and said no financial burden has been imposed on them.) Some of the workers have limited English skills, making it difficult to navigate their new surroundings.

Workers said, so far, most people from Golden Gate Fields who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 are asymptomatic. They were only aware of one person who had been hospitalized.

According to Friday’s statement, the racetrack has an on-site medical director, who is an infectious disease expert and is “providing medical consultation to those who live and work at the racetrack.”

Officials said even those who test negative but are considered “close contacts” of people who are sick must quarantine for 14 days: “The track is providing daily food delivery and access to medical support as well as the means to safely quarantine, including additional bathrooms and handwashing stations” for these individuals, the statement said.

Berkeley Public Health and 1/ST Racing are “closely monitoring the situation to follow all local, state and federal guidelines.”

According to Friday’s statement, Golden Gate Fields has implemented a number of health and safety measures — some of which have been in place throughout the pandemic — including “social distancing, masking policies and regular COVID-19 testing with isolation requirements for any positive cases or identified close contacts.”

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...