Two years into this pandemic, the Bay Area is facing yet another crisis involving the homeless and COVID-19. San Francisco and other Bay Area cities are seeing COVID outbreaks in homeless shelters, and with hotels that have been used for homeless housing now largely filled, cities will have a major dilemma in finding places for the infected to isolate.
An outbreak at SF's Division Circle Navigation Center, which is operated by the St. Vincent de Paul Society, was first reported last week by KRON4 and Mission Local and estimated to have impacted at least 50 people. Now, as KPIX reports, we know at around that number of residents as well as three staff members at the Navigation Center have tested positive, and there's been a mirror outbreak at another shelter run by St. Vincent de Paul, MSC South — a.k.a. the Multi-Service Center South on Fifth Street, which was the site of a major outbreak early in the pandemic.
At MSC South, 17 residents and nine staffers have reportedly tested positive.
A rep for St. Vincent de Paul tells KPIX that these twin outbreaks too them "by surprise," because of how simultaneous they were.
The latest outbreaks at these two SF shelters come as other outbreaks, spurred by the highly infectious Omicron variant, are being reported at three homeless shelters in Santa Clara County. As the Mercury News reports, 20 to 30 COVID cases have arisen across the three shelters, Julian Street Inn, Georgia Travis House, and Boccardo Reception Center. Boccardo is the county's largest shelter, and was the site of a 55-person outbreak in December 2020.
St. Vincent de Paul tells KPIX that it is working with the City of San Francisco to find quarantine locations for the infected homeless — though hotels designated for this purpose have largely gone back to being hotels, or have converted to transitional housing and are largely full. At the height of the pandemic, the city was managing as many as 538 isolation and quarantine hotel rooms, and that program ended June 30, 2021.
"No question it’s yet another reminder of the dangers of homelessness and the challenges," says Dr. Margot Kushel, professor of medicine and director of the UCSF Center for Vulnerable Populations, speaking about the outbreaks to the Mercury News. "This is now going to be, I fear, almost impossible to keep up with. It’s going to be almost impossible to prevent massive outbreaks in congregate settings."
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Photo: City of San Francisco Dept. of Homelessness and Supportive Housing