70 people test positive for the coronavirus at SF’s biggest homeless shelter

San Francisco Chronicle, April 10, 2020

By John King

A major coronavirus outbreak has hit San Francisco’s largest homeless shelter, with 68 of the homeless residents testing positive for COVID-19 as well as two employees. The Multi-Service Center South, which can hold 340 overnight guests, was down to fewer than 150 people when the decision was made Wednesday to test everyone inside. There were 70 positive cases found and 71 negative cases. Three results are still pending. The shelter, located at 525 Fifth St., has now been turned into a medical facility, with anyone who tested negative relocated elsewhere.

“We are going to reroute our medical health experts, our nurses and other health support to this facility,” Mayor London Breed said at a Friday afternoon news conference. According to Breed, such an outbreak has been seen as a possibility all along. “The fact is, we were on top of it,” she insisted Friday. “We had hotel rooms available, and we had plans to staff up hotel rooms as rapidly as possible, in case an outbreak occurred.” But to homeless advocates and other mayoral critics who have called for moving the homeless into hotel rooms for weeks, the surge in positive cases at Multi-Service Center could and should have been avoided. The city’s health director, Dr. Grant Colfax sounded a similar theme. “We have always known that from the data that this virus can take off quickly, and we were prepared to provide aggressive responses — especially in congregate settings and high-risk populations,” he said. “Unfortunately, the moment is now upon us.” Colfax also played down the dangers that the outbreak — and others that could follow — might present to people who aren’t homeless but who live or work in the blocks and neighborhoods nearby. “This outbreak does not mean there is significantly greater risk to the general public,” Colfax said. “However, it is a very serious matter, though not unexpected.” Nobody who tested positive is seriously ill at present, Colfax said, although one former resident is now in the hospital. That said, he added, “Many of them have chronic health conditions,” which makes them “vulnerable to getting very sick, or even dying from coronavirus.”

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