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San Francisco Readies Moscone Center To Shelter Homeless During Coronavirus Pandemic

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) -- San Francisco has been looking for ways to test and shelter greater numbers of people and those efforts will intensify next week.

Moscone West will become a homeless shelter and the city will make a big push for more testing. The goal is to protect one vulnerable population without endangering another.

"We simply need to know where we are to better understand where we may be going," explained Grant Colfax, San Francisco's director of public health. City officials say they need more data and that means more testing so three new testing sites will open next week. However, the city says an ongoing resource shortage means priority must be given to first responders and health care workers.

"We know that so many of them are very concerned that they are doing this work in the community, they are trying their very best to save lives and serve the public," Mayor London Breed said during a briefing Friday. "But they are living in fear as to whether or not they have the virus."

"We've issued instructions to all labs and clinicians that they must prioritize their tests in the same way," Colfax said, calling the testing priority a matter of public safety.

Next week will also bring the deployment of large-scale shelter efforts. The first part of that means moving people out of traditional homeless shelters.

"Starting next week, Moscone West will open up and supplies are being delivered this weekend," Breed said. "People are being coordinated. We're going to use Moscone West as a place to thin out our shelters."

Along with Moscone, the city hopes to secure 3,000 hotel rooms to get people off the streets. On Saturday, Tenderloin neighborhood sidewalks were still packed with people, many of them living on the street. The mayor acknowledged that securing the hotel rooms will likely prove easier than getting people into those rooms.

"People who suffer from substance abuse disorder and people who have mental illness, the difficulty that we are going to have as a city in keeping them in quarantine and keeping them on an order to shelter in place is going to be difficult," Mayor Breed said. "We also have to make sure that we protect the people who we ask to put their lives on the line to basically staff these places and provide supportive services."

As for the other source of crowding on downtown sidewalks, KPIX put that question to San Francisco police chief Bill Scott.

"I've been out there with our officers and I've seen it first hand," Chief Scott answered. "Those individuals that are out selling drugs and gathering and causing gatherings to be worse because people are gathering to buy drugs, that's a public health problem. So we still have room in our jails for those types of individuals."

Moscone West will be arranged to provide more isolated spacing than traditional shelters. The 3,000 hotel rooms will be for the homeless and first responders and health care workers who are high-risk and don't want to take that risk home to their families.

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