SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- San Francisco health officials announced Thursday 53 new coronavirus cases among local residences and the first among those living in the city's homeless shelters.
The city/county saw the total number of confirmed cases since the outbreak began in January climb to 450. No new deaths were reported as San Francisco's death toll remained at seven.
While there was no new growth overnight in the number of cases among the staff and residents of the city's sprawling Laguna Honda senior care facility, officials were concerned about a new case involving a homeless individual living in the Division Circle Navigation Center.
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 were 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.
In a joint news release by San Francisco Supervisors Hillary Ronen, Matt Haney, Dean Preston, Shamann Walton and Aaron Peskin, the city leaders said the spread of the virus among the city's large homeless population was inevitable, and the city government has failed to act to move those in shelters to available hotel rooms.
"This infection could have been avoided," the statement read. "This individual and hundreds of others should have been moved out of shelters weeks ago."
At an afternoon press conference outside the Division Circle Navigation Center at 224 Van Ness Ave., Ronen said the city has 30,000 vacant hotel rooms and hotels have offered 11,000 rooms for use by homeless individuals who don't require supervision. She demanded the city act immediately to move those exposed to the virus out of the shelter.
"This morning, we demanded that everyone from this shelter who has been exposed to COVID-19 be housed in a hotel room if they can take care of themselves. We were told that that is not going to happen, that they will move people that are sleeping the closest to the individual, but that they weren't even ready to move 60-year-olds and people with serious, underlying health conditions," said Ronen.
Ronen added that Mayor London Breed told supervisors that some of those in the shelter who are older or who have underlying conditions would be moved, but not everyone and she called that "unacceptable."
"We knew this day was going to come. We have been talking about it for weeks. We have been saying we've got to move everybody who's unhoused off of the streets into these empty hotel rooms. We have been having folks out on the streets tell us that they feel like the city is just leaving them here to die.," said Jennifer Friedenbach, Executive Director of the San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness. "And the response from the city is, 'well we don't have enough support services inside the hotels so we are not going to move people into those empty hotel rooms.' Well people aren't getting services on the streets now, so what exactly is the difference here? Why would you leave hotels empty? Why would you allow thousands of San Franciscans to sleep on top of each other?"
While Gov. Gavin Newsom's staff has been trying to locate housing for the state's estimated 100,000 homeless individuals in vacant hotel x`rooms and trailers, the supervisors said more should have been done on the local level.
"While San Franciscans have been ordered to shelter in place since March 16th, and strongly encouraged to social distance since March 6th -- nearly 3,000 people experiencing homelessness in congregate shelters, 5,000 unsheltered individuals, and 19,000 people living in SROs are still unable to self-isolate and put at greater risk for contracting the virus," the supervisors' statement said. "It is virtually impossible to have adequate social distancing in our shelters and navigation centers."
The Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a resolution earlier this week demanding that Mayor London Breed and city departments urgently procure private rooms to:
- Move all shelter clients, especially those who are seniors or have underlying health conditions into private rooms immediately, before they become infected
- Move high-risk unsheltered individuals who are sleeping on the street or in encampments into private rooms, before they become infected
The supervisors said they would introduce an Emergency Ordinance requiring at least 1,000 rooms be used for unhoused people in shelters, and mandate that the city lease an estimated 14,000 hotel rooms by the time the coronavirus is expected to reach peak infection on April 28.
Late Thursday afternoon, Randy Quezada, spokesman for the city's emergency operations center, issued the following statement.
"The City is working to protect the health and safety of all San Franciscans. The city's strategy to weathering the Coronavirus threat in our community is grounded in science and guidance from health experts. To best prepare for the weeks and months ahead, we must ensure that our hospitals are able to treat the expected surge of COVID-19 patients. Securing hotel rooms for patients who need a location to quarantine or isolate ensures that we can free up space in our hospitals. The rooms will be used as directed by medical professionals to house vulnerable populations such as homeless residents, as well as first responders and people in congregate living situations who need a place to quarantine. Every action we are taking is based on the advice of public health experts in order to save lives during this pandemic."
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