City says to limit attendance at big events; coronavirus patient from cruise ship has Berkeley tie

There are now two COVID-19 cases in Berkeley. The health risk to residents is considered low.

There are now two confirmed cases of coronavirus in Berkeley, but both were contracted outside of the city. Image: CDC

Update, 5:45 p.m. The Berkeley Unified School District has decided to cancel all large events through March in line with Tuesday’s directive from the city’s public division. Schools will remain open. According to the notice, BUSD “will have to cancel the much loved Black History Oratorical Fest (3/19) and the Performing Arts Showcase (3/22).” Assemblies, performances and evening gatherings at schools are also off, but School Board meetings will continue for now.

Original story: Berkeley’s health officer is urging residents to limit their attendance at “mass gatherings” to slow the spread of a novel coronavirus, though she stopped short of calling for school or office closures in an announcement Tuesday afternoon.

Dr. Lisa Hernandez’s message also refers to a passenger from the Grand Princess cruise ship, which docked in Oakland on Monday, who is currently being treated for coronavirus. The city said its public health division has “oversight” of that person, who was “brought to a regional hospital.” That brings the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Berkeley to two. Both patients contracted the disease through travel, not through “community spread,” according to the city.

Hernandez said older adults and people with chronic diseases should especially reconsider attending large gatherings. Her message includes detailed advice for those populations, event organizers and schools.


“I am also recommending that event organizers postpone or cancel non-essential mass gatherings and large community events where large numbers of people are within arm’s length of one another,” she said. “This does not include typical office environments, stores, school, colleges or universities.”

While UC Berkeley and some other educational institutions have closed campuses this week, Berkeley Unified schools remain open. The superintendent has said he is heeding the advice of city and county health officers about how to respond to coronavirus.

The current health risk for Berkeley residents is still considered low, however. The city has advised residents to wash their hands frequently, avoid touching their faces, and take other precautionary measures to slow the spread of the virus.

“While the vast majority of COVID-19 patients do not become seriously ill, and fully recover, these recommendations are being issued to slow the spread, and further protect the most vulnerable. The time to act is now,” Hernandez said. “Each of us has a role to play in limiting the spread of COVID-19. That starts with personal hygiene. Understanding how you can limit participation in mass gatherings is the next step.”

Other Bay Area jurisdictions have outright banned mass events. In San Francisco and Santa Clara County, which both have more confirmed coronavirus cases than Berkeley does, there are new rules restricting events in city-owned facilities and large gatherings in general, respectively.

Many Berkeley residents have told Berkeleyside they’re upending their daily routines, working from home, installing hand-washing stations at their front doors, canceling dentist appointments and vacations, and stocking up on non-perishable food in case they have to be quarantined. Some have shared concerns about their financial stability, with events getting canceled and some companies across the Bay Area requiring employees to take unpaid time off.

Hernandez said more changes will likely be required in the coming weeks and months, as Berkeley is still “still relatively early in the spread of COVID-19.”

Natalie Orenstein reports on housing and homelessness for The Oaklandside. She was previously a reporter for Berkeleyside. Email: natalie@oaklandside.org. Twitter: nat_orenstein.