San Francisco Reports First COVID-19 Case in Homeless Shelter

Supervisors are calling on more hotels to shelter homeless and help prevent the spread of coronavirus.

The city of San Francisco has reported its first case of the novel  coronavirus at a homeless shelter, according to the city's Department of Emergency Management. The patient who tested positive for COVID-19 was staying at the  Division Circle Navigation Center and is currently in good condition,  recovering in isolation at a hotel room, DEM officials said.    

Although officials with the city's Department of Public Health and  Homeless and Supportive Housing Department don't yet know how the patient  contracted the virus, the agencies are working together to minimize the  spread within the congregate space.

Upon learning of the case, health officials supplied the center with extra masks for both staff and residents to wear at all times.            

Additionally, DPH has deployed doctors and health workers at the  site to conduct symptom and temperature screenings for staff and residents. Anyone showing COVID-19 symptoms will be tested and relocated to a staffed  hotel room for quarantine.

Other residents may be moved, depending on their risk of exposure, DEM officials said. DPH staff is also looking into who the patient came into  contact with over the last few days. In addition to the measures already  underway, the city will deploy a professional cleaning crew to the center to  thoroughly disinfect it.

Since the shelter-in-place order first took effect last month, the city has moved to expand its shelter system, in addition to acquiring hotel rooms and trailers, for homeless people affected by COVID-19.

The new shelter at Moscone Center West, opening Thursday, will provide 390 new beds to add to the shelter system and help create more space  and social distance at other shelters. The city is also eyeing two other  potential shelter locations. Additionally, the city has acquired more than a thousand hotel  rooms and more than 100 trailers for homeless people in shelters who have  symptoms, tested positive or have been exposed, but don't require hospitalization.

"We have been preparing for this situation for weeks, and HSH and  DPH are wrapping around the patient with health care and support," Abigail Stewart-Kahn, Interim Director of the Department of Homelessness and  Supportive Housing, said in a statement. "The wellbeing of our homeless  neighbors is our top priority, and we will continue to work in partnership  with our nonprofit service providers, DPH, and the entire city to  aggressively contain the virus and protect our community."

In a statement, San Francisco supervisors Hillary Ronen, Matt  Haney, Dean Preston, Shamann Walton and Aaron Peskin thanked the city for its work to keep the city's homeless safe, but said the case could have been  avoided.

"Spread of this virus in shelters is inevitable with hundreds of  people sleeping in close quarters, sharing bathrooms and common areas," they said. "This individual and hundreds of others should have been moved out of the shelter weeks ago." Although the supervisors earlier this week approved measures  calling for the city to move the city's 8,000 homeless residents in hotel  rooms, whether they're in the shelter system or on the streets or  encampments, they said the city hasn't been supportive. "We have been met with resistance and told that the city will have private rooms for unhoused people 'eventually.' Despite the fact that there  are over 30,000 vacant hotel rooms in the city for use -- the mayor's office  and city departments in charge have not moved a single person out of shelters or off the streets before they became or were suspected to be infected," the supervisors said in the statement.

The supervisors announced they'll be introducing an emergency  ordinance at the upcoming Tuesday Board of Supervisors meeting to require that at least 1,000 hotel rooms be used for homeless people in congregate settings like shelters. Additionally, the supervisors will mandate that the city lease 14,000 hotel rooms by the end of April to be used as quarantine  rooms.

Breed said Wednesday that although she would like to help all of  the city's homeless residents, including those on the streets in encampments  and not belonging to vulnerable populations, the resources just aren't  available at the moment.

"I know that we have thousands of hotel rooms here in San  Francisco, and I know that people are asking, 'Well why don't we just open  the doors and just let everyone who's homeless get access to a hotel room?' I wish it were that easy to help people who are unfortunately struggling with  addiction, people who are sadly struggling with mental illness," she said. "I want to be clear that the capacity and the resources in general  needed to provide the wrap-around services for many of these populations make it very difficult to just open the doors and allow just anyone to walk in. And in addition to that, we don't have the ability to force anyone to stay  anywhere, so that also becomes a challenge, even with our shelter systems," the mayor said.

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