A groom tapes the legs of a race horse after its morning workout at Golden Gates Fields. The backstretch is facing an outbreak of COVID-19 cases, officials said. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)
BERKELEY — Golden Gate Fields, the Bay Area’s major horse racing track, is experiencing a “significant outbreak” as cases of COVID-19 rise at an alarming rate across California.
More than 200 people at the racetrack that is located along the shoreline of San Francisco Bay have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, Berkeley public health officials and track operators said in a joint news release.
Aidan Butler, chief strategy officer of the track owner the Stronach Group told the California Horse Racing Board on Friday that 95% of the people who tested positive are asymptomatic.
“Unfortunately, that is the reason, I believe, this got out of control because no one was too sick for the most part,” he said at the CHRB’s regularly scheduled board meeting.
Butler also said operators are trying to make sure the outbreak does not extend beyond Golden Gate Fields. The Stronach Group also owns Santa Anita Park in Arcadia. The famed Los Angeles track is not scheduled to begin live racing until Dec. 26. But Del Mar Racetrack season is underway through Nov. 29.
“We feel pretty good that this will be held and isolated to not only to the racetrack but the surrounding area,” Butler said.
He added that officials have temporarily stopped the transport of horses and staff. Butler said the biggest concern is the fact the track share horses and staff.
Golden Gate Fields temporarily suspended live racing operations on Nov. 13 after reporting an outbreak of 24 cases on the backstretch where about 400 people work as grooms, hotwalkers and riders.
At the time, track officials said the Berkeley-Albany facility would remain open for daily exercise and training for the 1,200 horses housed there.
According to a statement issued Friday night by city and track officials, anyone in close contact with a person who has tested negative would be under 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,” the statement said.
Officials said every person living or working at the track has been tested and additional testing is planned.
According to the statement issued Friday night, track officials are helping employees who tested positive find off-site housing. The statement also said track officials have arranged for twice-daily food delivery “to ensure that those individuals do not have to leave isolation and have the essential items they require.”
Butler told the racing board that most of the track employees have been moved into hotels.
So far, everything seems to be going according to plan. We’re monitoring it 24/7.
Officials said if they uncover more COVID-19 cases public health officers will employ contract tracing to require more people to quarantine.
The statement said all those who tested positive are being isolated off-track.
For anyone still on site, they are preparing two meals a day to stop people from wandering around.
“So far, everything seems to be going according to plan,” Butler told the commissioners. “We’re monitoring it 24/7.”
News of the outbreak came a day after Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a limited curfew starting Saturday night designed to slow a rapid surge of COVID-19 cases.
Newsom’s decree came on the heels of California public health officials placing 41 of the state’s 58 counties in the purple category — or most severe risk — in the state’s reopening system.
“The virus is spreading at a pace we haven’t seen since the start of this pandemic and the next several days and weeks will be critical to stop the surge,” Newsom said in a statement. “We are sounding the alarm.”
In April, Alameda County health officials forced Golden Gate Fields to shut down just hours before a scheduled first post.
“We’re disappointed,” assistant general manager William Rizzuto said then. “We felt like we were pretty safe. But we have to abide by what the county wants.”
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