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L.A. workers assigned to clean up homeless encampments report higher vaccination rates

An L.A. sanitation worker cleans up around a  homeless encampment on a sidewalk in South Los Angeles in 2018.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

About 78% of Los Angeles sanitation workers assigned to clean homeless encampments have reported being fully or partially vaccinated, officials said Thursday.

That was up sharply from an earlier figure showing that only 38% of employees in the entire Bureau of Sanitation had reported being fully or partially vaccinated, while 58% hadn’t yet disclosed their vaccination status.

The information was released a day after The Times reported about worries from activists that low vaccination rates among sanitation workers could lead to more homeless people getting COVID-19. Vaccination rates among L.A.'s homeless population are still relatively low compared with the broader population.

Elena Stern, a spokeswoman for the Department of Public Works, said Thursday that 259 of 263 employees in the Bureau of Sanitation division that does cleanups have reported their vaccine status. Of those, she said, 188 report being fully vaccinated, 13 report being partially vaccinated and 58 report not being vaccinated.

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It’s “a fluid number, and the number of vaccinations is increasing every day,” Stern said.

Workers have until Oct. 19 to report their vaccine status. Vaccination requirements will become a condition of city employment the following day.

The department’s Livability and Services Division is responsible for cleaning and rapid engagement cleanups, known as CARE, which typically allow tents to remain on the sidewalk.

These employees also do CARE+ operations, which require that everything be moved — tents, mattresses, etc. — so sidewalks can be power-washed with a combination of water and bleach. These cleanups were mostly suspended in March 2020 in hopes of reducing the chances of spreading COVID-19 and restarted again earlier this month.

Advocates for homeless people worry that the risks from COVID are still present. Two weeks ago, the L.A. County Department of Public Health reported that an estimated 43.5% of the homeless population is vaccinated, well below the 60.6% of county residents overall.

Times staff writer David Zahniser contributed to this report.


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