Note: Scroll to the bottom of this story for a statement from the city of Berkeley that was shared after publication.
A second patient at Elmwood Care Center, the largest skilled nursing facility in Berkeley, has tested positive for COVID-19.
A relative of a different Elmwood patient told Berkeleyside about the new case early Thursday evening. Berkeleyside is not naming this relative so as to avoid the possibility of any repercussions for her family member.
An Elmwood staff member reached by telephone Thursday shortly before 6 p.m. confirmed the new case. She said administrators who could comment further on the matter had left for the day and that there was no way to reach them until Friday. Berkeleyside has also called and emailed Elmwood’s senior vice president but had not received a response from him as of publication time.
The family member who spoke to Berkeleyside said she was surprised when she got the call Thursday informing her about the new patient who tested positive. It’s the second such call she’s gotten this week: Another patient at the skilled nursing facility, which is in South Berkeley, tested positive Monday. That was the first known instance of a COVID-19 infection at a Berkeley senior facility.
Earlier on Thursday, the woman said an Elmwood staffer had called with good news: Her relative staying at the Elmwood had tested negative for COVID-19. It was a relief. When she saw another incoming call from the facility a short time later, she initially thought it was a mistake.
“I was about to say, ‘You just called me already,’” the woman said Thursday evening. But then she got the disturbing update about the new COVID-19 patient. The news left her feeling helpless, she said.
“It’s terrifying,” the woman told Berkeleyside. “I’m just trying to find out what’s going on and be stoic.”
The relative said she had tried to get details about the case earlier this week from Berkeley Public Health and from the Elmwood — which also goes by the name Elmwood Nursing and Rehabilitation Center — but had been told nothing could be shared because of laws protecting patient confidentiality.
A doctor at Kaiser, however, told her both patients who tested positive — who stayed on separate sides of the Elmwood facility — have been removed from the facility. One was in the long-term care wing and the other one was in rehab. The new patient was asymptomatic, the doctor told her.
On Tuesday, the Elmwood confirmed to Berkeleyside that the first patient who tested positive was removed from the facility and would not return.
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That day, city spokesman Matthai Chakko said everyone at the senior facility would be tested for COVID-19. (The city has declined to share the name of the facility, citing confidentiality laws, but did confirm Tuesday that there had been a case in a nursing home.)
On Thursday, he told Berkeleyside the city has been working all week to ensure everyone at the facility is tested.
“That’s our protocol: to get as many people tested as possible as quickly as possible,” he said, “all patients, all residents.”
Early Thursday evening, Chakko said he could not confirm the new case yet but said he would seek information and share it when he could.
As of Thursday morning, Berkeley had 72 lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases and one death.
Aside from this week’s cases, there have been no other patients reported at other skilled nursing facilities in Berkeley, the city said earlier this week.
Elsewhere in the country, however, 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 care facility that are licensed by the state: Ashby Care Center, Berkeley Pines Skilled Nursing Center, Build Home, Chaparral House, Elmwood Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, and Kyakameena Care Center.
Together, according to state health care records, they have the capacity to house nearly 260 people. The Elmwood facility is the largest of the bunch and has room for 77 patients.
Update, 8:55 p.m. The city of Berkeley provided a statement after publication, it appears below in full.
Our rapid response to the COVID-19 case at a local skilled nursing facility has identified another positive case, a person who was asymptomatic and was notified late this afternoon. The individual has been isolated. Following long-standing public health practice, our investigation will look to identify more potential contacts, test them and follow up with quarantines, isolation and other support.
We have been working closely with the state Department of Public Health, which has been supporting local health jurisdictions around California on this issue. They have been a terrific support to our staff.
As you know, we have been preparing for such a case at a skilled nursing facility. We have steadily increased restrictions, such as around visitors. Face coverings are required by all inside. We have increased testing. If necessary, we coordinate PPE. The first person to test positive at this location, known as the index case, had been tested twice within two weeks — the maximum incubation period for COVID-19. We are increasing testing for all residents and staff at SNFs through routine testing at these facilities. (We have also increased testing with those in shelters and encampments.)
The nature of this virus is that there will be more cases. It is embedded in our community. Our goal is to quickly move on identification, isolation, investigation, tracing, and quarantine. In this manner, we reduce the spread.