Berkeley had 68 positive COVID-19 tests in one day — but the city won’t explain why

Last week, the city of Berkeley reported a record number of positive COVID-19 tests on a single day since the coronavirus pandemic began. On Jan. 5, 68 people tested positive for COVID-19, according to data Berkeleyside has been tracking daily since last March.

For most of last year, the city rarely reported double-digit daily growth in coronavirus cases. That shifted in November, with dozens of cases reported on multiple days, driven in large part by an enormous outbreak at Golden Gate Fields racetrack that ultimately led to hundreds of COVID-19 infections and at least one death. On Nov. 18, the city reported 62 positive COVID-test results, setting the record for 2020.

But last week’s one-day total of 68 exceeded even that. On Friday, Berkeleyside asked the city of Berkeley to explain whether the figure was related to COVID-19 infections in group settings or individual households, or whether there was anything the city could say to put the spike in context for community members. The answer, unfortunately, was no.

The city said only that cases are on the rise in the Bay Area and that there had been an upward trend in Berkeley.

“I don’t have any further information at this time about the particular reasons for what happened with that particular day’s cases,” a city spokesman told Berkeleyside by email Tuesday.

Berkeleyside had also asked the city whether last week’s spike in cases related to large COVID-19 outbreaks in recent weeks at the Elmwood Care Center, a South Berkeley senior home and rehabilitation facility, and Silverado Berkeley Memory Care Community. Again, no information was provided.

The city has repeatedly said it cannot comment on outbreaks at specific locations even though the data is publicly available through state databases. The city claims it cannot discuss these outbreaks because of medical privacy laws.

The city has also declined to answer specific questions from Berkeleyside about testing at the Elmwood Care Center and Silverado, including the schedule for testing, saying only that “routine surveillance testing” must be done.

As of Tuesday, the city has had 2,206 lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases and 15 deaths. According to the city’s data dashboard, however, Berkeley’s positivity rate remains well below Alameda County’s. There is a seven-day lag in that data, according to the dashboard.