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Coronavirus Update: Gov. Newsom Announces Deal With Motel 6 Chain To House Homeless

CAMPBELL (CBS SF) -- Standing in front of a Motel 6 in Campbell, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a deal Saturday with the national chain to house homeless during the current coronavirus outbreak.

Newsom said the state's existing housing crisis and the outbreak of the coronavirus and need for social distancing has intensified the need to get an estimated 108,000 homeless individuals off the streets.

"The reason we're here is at a Motel 6 is to mark an important milestone in an effort to address the needs of the most vulnerable Californians, particularly those out on the street and sidewalks in this state," the governor said. "People that are struggling to find housing, families torn apart because of economic conditions or tragedies that have occurred in their lives."

"This state had a crisis on the issue of homelessness well before the crisis of COVID-19 ... In this crisis, it exacerbates that crisis."

Two weeks ago the governor announced Project Roomkey, a program in which the Federal Emergency Management Agency will pay 75% of costs associated with housing some homeless, including people who test positive or may have been exposed to the virus, and older homeless people and those with underlying health conditions.

That project is among a series of initiatives to help the homeless during the coronavirus outbreak which included the deployment of FEMA trailers. Newsom identified 15,000 hotel and motel rooms around California which could be rented by the state to house the homeless.

Of those, Newsom said 10,974 rooms have been procured by the state and 4,211 individuals are being housed in some of those rooms. The governor also said that, as part "of a master agreement template," Motel 6 has agreed to set aside 47 motel complexes in 19 counties to house the homeless. In all, the deal would add some 5,020 additional rooms to the Project Roomkey inventory.

He added that the individuals who qualify for the rooms must meet certain criteria. They must have tested positive for COVID-19, they must have been exposed to COVID-19 in a shelter, have a chronic illness or be elderly.

Newsom said work was underway to extend the deal with Motel 6 beyond the coronavirus outbreak.

"We cannot do this alone as a state, we're sort of building the plane but someone else has to fly it," Newsom said. "It's the counties that really lead this effort and it's the cities that need to support this effort."

He praised Santa Clara County and others for working proactively to shelter the homeless but said an equal number of jurisdictions have actively blocked measures that could help vulnerable residents.

"Homeless individuals are members of our community, people that are a paycheck away from losing the capacity to have that key and lock and a place to call home. I hope we'll consider their lives and future as well," he said.

Joining Newsom at the conference were Santa Clara County board of supervisors president Cindy Chavez, supervisor Susan Ellenberg and San Jose mayor Sam Liccardo.

Liccardo said over 500 homeless individuals have been housed in Santa Clara County so far, and pushed for Congress to support local jurisdictions with a second iteration of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act during the ongoing pandemic.

"We don't want these rooms simply opened for a few weeks or a few months," Liccardo said. "Let's give counties and cities the dollars they need to purchase motels so we can really aggressively address the homelessness crisis that will be here well beyond the time that this pandemic passes."

To feed those housed in the motels and hotels, Newsom said the state has reached an agreement with chef Jose Andres' World Central Kitchen organization to provide three meals a day.

The pandemic that has plunged California into recession has hit hard. There are concerns the virus could sweep through the state's homeless, many of whom have chronic health conditions and lack safe places to quarantine themselves, health officials say.

On Friday, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced that next week the city will begin sending medical teams to the streets to screen people for the virus. In the next few weeks, teams will also begin offering fast-result COVID-19 field tests and those who are infected will be offered transportation to shelters and have hotel rooms set aside for them.

"If we encounter somebody who's living on the street or in their car, somebody who's in a shelter who's sick, they'll be able to test them right away," Garcetti said.

More than 30 homeless people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Los Angeles County, including six at a skid row shelter, health authorities said.

So far, San Francisco is the only city to report a large-scale outbreak at a homeless shelter, after more than 100 people tested positive, including 10 staff. None of the people was seriously ill when tested but three have since been hospitalized, said public health spokeswoman Rachael Kagan.

Meanwhile, California's death toll from the virus rose above 1,050 on Saturday, according to a tally by John Hopkins University.

The state also reported for the first time Friday that there are 3,500 confirmed cases, or about 12% statewide, are in nursing homes or adult care facilities, where infections have spread quickly.

There have been signs the outbreak is slowing in the month or more since most of the state's 40 million residents found themselves under state and local orders to stay at home. Social distancing rules are being praised for that but they have hit the economy hard, shutting down schools, tourist spots and most restaurants and retail businesses.

Newsom named a task force Friday to help the state recover economically after he begins easing restrictions, although such a move isn't expected for several weeks. The nonpartisan panel of billionaires and corporate leaders includes all four living former governors — two Democrats, like Newsom, and two Republicans.

The panel's appointment comes after dismal unemployment figures ended a record 10-year economic growth streak Friday. The job losses were based on a survey taken the week that included March 12, meaning most of the state's job losses aren't reflected in that figure.

On Friday, Newsom announced 3.1 million people have filed for unemployment benefits since mid-March.

"We are now in a pandemic-induced recession here in the state of California," Newsom said. "These are sober and challenging times."

In order to begin lifting restrictions that will allow the reopening of businesses, the state will need to test 25,000 people a day and track down those they may have infected, a big task in the nation's most populous state. Testing has been problematic for weeks across the U.S., with fewer than 20,000 administered each day, though testing sites continue to expand. Several areas have begun offering COVID-19 tests to people without symptoms.

Expanding testing to those who aren't necessarily feeling sick is "going to be a key indicator for understanding how it spreads and knowing where our areas of concern are," said Dr. Cameron Kaiser, Riverside County's public health officer.

© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press and Bay City News contributed to this report

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