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Housing & Homelessness

Coronavirus spreads in Los Angeles’ homeless community

Davis Soto, Kenya Smith
Outreach nurse Kenya Smith, right, leaves food for Davis Soto, who is homeless, last month in Los Angeles.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

There are nine confirmed cases of coronavirus among Los Angeles’ homeless population, said Barbara Ferrer, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, at her Thursday media briefing.

This is up from five the day before and comes as the city and county attempt to more aggressively test in places like skid row. Ferrer said it was challenging to know exactly where in the county these homeless people had been, but so far there had been no clustering of cases.

She said there had been cases at two shelters but didn’t reveal their names or locations.

The Times reported earlier this week that the first confirmed case on skid row came from an employee of the Union Rescue Mission who lived in the shelter.

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“If we’re able to, we quarantine at the shelter everybody who’s been exposed. And sometimes, at a smaller shelter, that could mean we’re quarantining the entire facility,” Ferrer said. “But we also will go in and identify who are the people most vulnerable, who had an exposure, and we move those people to an isolated site for them to serve out their quarantine. ”

Ferrer said public health staff quarantined 22 homeless people from a shelter in their own rooms at another facility. The city has scrambled to open shelter beds in shuttered community centers and rent motel beds where homeless individuals can live in isolation.

As the city has moved homeless people off the streets, county officials have been working to secure thousands of beds both for shelters and for isolation or quarantine.

The L.A. County Office of Emergency Management, which is responsible for providing space for patients to quarantine or isolate themselves, had 460 rooms ready this week — including 112 trailers at Dockweiler State Beach — and is preparing to open 442 more rooms.

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Only 51 people were using them as of Tuesday. More will be used as more people are confirmed to have COVID-19 or possible exposure to the disease, the agency’s director, Kevin McGowan, previously told The Times.

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