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70 people contract coronavirus in San Francisco's largest homeless shelter

Advocates are calling out officials for not placing homeless in shelters sooner.

At one of the largest homeless shelters in San Francisco, California, 70 people tested positive for the coronavirus, officials said.

Mayor London Breed announced on Friday that 68 homeless people and two staffers of the MSC South shelter contracted the coronavirus and have been placed in quarantine at the facility.

The building, which usually houses 340 people, had its occupancy reduced to "roughly 100," Breed said. The remaining occupants with negative results were moved into hotel rooms and health officials will move into the 5th Street location to provide medical treatment on-site.

But advocates with the Coalition on Homelessness are outraged that it took an outbreak of the coronavirus inside a shelter for officials to move the homeless into hotels.

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"We begged the city from day 1 to get homeless people into hotel units before a shelter outbreak happened," according to the COH's Twitter account. "& now it's happened. & now 70 beloved people are sick. & now we are heartbroken + infuriated to see all of our predictions come true. GET EVERYONE INTO HOTEL ROOMS NOW."

COH's executive director Jennifer Friedenbach hosted a Facebook Live on Friday afternoon along with doctors and other advocates where she demanded officials test all homeless people and to move them to hotels immediately. "This could have been prevented," said Friedenbach.

Health officials have called for people to stay-at-home, social distance and quarantine in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, but in crowded facilities like a homeless shelter those measures are difficult to practice.

"This is an urgent public health emergency," said Dr. Colette Auerswald, faculty member at the School of Public Health at Berkeley. "This is not rocket science. ... We have the evidence now, it is not a mystery that folks that are experiencing homelessness are at a higher risk at being infected, high risk of becoming severely ill and of dying."

The homeless population in San Francisco has been on the rise almost every year since 2005, according to the city and county of San Francisco's website. As of 2019, there are over 8,000 homeless and more than half do not have shelter.

Across the city there are about 10 shelters with a little over 1,200 shelter beds for adults over the age of 18, according to the city's Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing.

"I am very concerned about the city's planning around group sheltering of people," said Dr. Rupa Marya. "We're been raising our voices to demand that unhoused people, patients go into reasonable shelters -- which in this context -- is hotel rooms and luxury vacant units ... ASAP, not in a week."

Marya said there must be over 34,000 hotel rooms in the city of San Francisco and can "guarantee" that are not all in use during this time.

Request for comment from Breed's office on their efforts with the homeless population prior to the coronavirus outbreak at MSC South was not immediate received.

As of Saturday morning, almost 800 people in San Francisco had tested positive for the coronavirus and 13 died.

What to know about coronavirus:

  • How it started and how to protect yourself: Coronavirus explained
  • What to do if you have symptoms: Coronavirus symptoms
  • Tracking the spread in the US and Worldwide: Coronavirus map