Prepare for San Francisco's confirmed coronavirus case count to jump on Saturday as we're now getting word of a 70-person outbreak (and counting) at the city's largest homeless shelter.
Confirming the fears that many homeless advocates and several city supervisors have expressed in recent weeks, the latest cluster of positive cases in the city has popped up at Multi-Service Center South (525 Fifth Street at Bryant), which typically has space for 340 people per night. As the Chronicle reports, the capacity at the shelter had been lowered to around 150 to provide more distance between residents, but this did not prevent 68 homeless guests in the shelter from becoming infected with COVID-19. Two staff members at the facility also tested positive, and there are three tests still pending, per the Chron.
During a Friday afternoon press conference, both Public Health Director Dr. Grant Colfax and Mayor London Breed tried to downplay the significance of the outbreak, saying that they were expecting something like this and the city is prepared with hotel rooms. Per the Chronicle, the Fifth Street shelter is now converting into a medical facility for the 68 infected homeless people, and everyone else is being moved elsewhere — likely to hotel rooms, though that is not clear. Previously, the mayor had suggested that hotel space would be used for those who tested positive but did not require hospital care.
Reportedly, none of those who tested positive has yet to show any serious symptoms.
"The fact is, we were on top of it," Breed said.
Dr. Colfax tried to quell fears that neighbors of the shelter might have, saying that this outbreak "does not mean there is significantly greater risk to the general public. However, it is a very serious matter, though not unexpected."
Last week, a resident of the Mission District Navigation Center tested positive for COVID-19, and reportedly a former resident of Multi-Service Center South also tested positive and has since been hospitalized. These cases prompted the city to test everyone in all the city's shelters — which is how this cluster was found.
In a list of recommendations to the city on Thursday, the Coalition on Homelessness applauded the city's decision to test all those in shelters.
"Department of Public Health guidelines should be adjusted to make widespread testing an accessible option for all guests in congregate shelters, whether exhibiting symptoms or not," writes coalition director Jennifer Friedenbach. She pointed out that those in shelters are share both bathrooms and eating spaces, making the highly contagious coronavirus even more likely to be spread in the shelter-dwelling population.
Friedenbach further pushed for vacant hotel rooms to be used instead of congregate shelters, for the above reasons. She said the city ought to "quickly deploy a decentralized access configuration for community based providers to populate hotel rooms." She added, "Homeless service providers are ready to move entire shelters en masse into hotel rooms and broadly support this process."
During the Friday press conference, Mayor Breed said that the city has "plans to staff up hotel rooms as rapidly as possible" in order to make them into shelter and/or quarantine spaces for homeless individuals.