San Diego opens downtown restrooms amid hepatitis A crisis

New portable public restrooms were opened in downtown San Diego over the weekend in an effort to help combat the growing hepatitis outbreak that has killed 16 people and infected more than 400 since last fall, officials said.

The dearth of 24-hour public restrooms downtown has long been cited as a shortcoming in the city — an inconvenience for visitors and a more dire problem for the growing homeless population.

The use of sidewalks and public rights of way as toilets has created unsanitary conditions that health officials think have contributed to the spread of the virus.

The city has begun power-washing those areas with a bleach solution, and the county has set up 40 hand-washing stations around the city over the last week, officials said.

Four new portable restrooms have been placed near City Hall at First Avenue and C Street. The city says they will be maintained at least twice a day and will be monitored by 24-hour security. A hand-washing station is nearby.

The city plans to identify additional sites for restrooms in the coming weeks on top of the 20 public restroom facilities currently downtown, including Friday’s installation, according to a city statement issued Saturday.

To that end, San Diego officials are asking downtown property owners to contact the city if they have space for a portable restroom, particularly if their land is near “at-risk populations.”

“The installation of more public restrooms is important to stop the spread of hepatitis A,” Jonathan Herrera, the city’s senior advisor on homelessness coordination, said in the statement. “This is one of the many steps the city is taking to assist the County of San Diego in addressing this public health emergency.”

Smolens writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.

michael.smolens@sduniontribune.com

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