A COVID-19 outbreak at Berkeley’s Golden Gate Fields infected over 300 workers and residents, according to a November 20 press release issued by Golden Gate Fields. 370 workers live at the facility and work alongside an additional 170 employees. The track has been closed to the public for the duration of COVID-19. However, off-track racing results show that the racing schedule was active until November 14. A large team is required to care for and train the hundreds of horses.
According to the press release, the “City of Berkeley Public Health continues to work closely with Golden Gate Fields on a significant outbreak where more than 200 people living or working on-site at the racetrack have tested positive.” They assured the public that “Golden Gate Fields’ on-site medical director, an infectious disease expert, is providing medical consultation to those who live and work at the racetrack.”
The living quarters comprise four barracks-like buildings, for a total of about 8,000 square feet.
Golden Gate Fields is owned by 1/ST Racing, a company that owns several other tracks including Santa Anita in Arcadia California and Pimlico in Maryland, the home of the Preakness Stakes.
86-year-old trainer Bob Hess died as a result of the outbreak. He had worked at Golden Gate Fields for almost 50 years. The Golden Gate Fields official website released a statement mourning his loss, and celebrating his “…distinguished career that saw him saddle 1,592 winners from 10,448 starters, Hess’s runners earned more than $17.2 million.”
The horse racing track has a rich history both in and out of the racing world. According to a July 10 1892 story in the New York Times, the site was previously the location of the first licensed dynamite manufacturer in the United States.
Shortly after the COVID-19 tests began to skyrocket, a joint press release by the City of Berkeley and Golden Gate Fields assured, “All those who have tested positive are isolated, following federal, state and City guidelines.” For those quarantining at the track, food and other necessities are being provided. At the December 10 Town Hall, Public Health Officer Lisa Hernandez, “We’ve also required them to institute other measures to limit the spread, which includes placement of portable bathrooms and hand washing stations.”
The track maintains that 95 percent of cases were asymptomatic.
Hernandez addressed the outbreak at the Virtual Town Hall on December 10. “I … want people to be aware that from early in November to mid November we were seeing our [case] activity being attributed mostly to Golden Gate Fields.”
The horses still need constant care. Hernandez stressed, “[Some] individuals are allowed to return for a limited amount of time to care for the horses. And they have to access the area using personal protective equipment, fit tested and 95 respirators eye protection, and once they finish, they’re tasked with maintaining the health care of the horses, they are required to leave the premises.”
When questioned on what the spread at Golden Gate Fields may be attributed to, Hernandez said “… this investigation is currently underway. I can’t say whether the cases have been occurring for a long time or a short time at this point. We’re working with the state to help us characterize this outbreak a bit more.”