Coronavirus cases have soared this month among San Francisco’s homeless population and residents of the city’s single-room-occupancy hotels. The city reported 59 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among unhoused people from Dec. 1 to Dec. 18, more than in September, October and November combined.
In the latest effort to slow a post-Thanksgiving surge in coronavirus infections, San Francisco has issued a strict quarantine order.
Anyone traveling, moving or returning to San Francisco from outside the 10-county Bay Area to quarantine for 10 days. The quarantine requirement applies to visitors, people moving here and returning residents alike. There are exceptions for medical professionals, first responders, essential workers and others.
While COVID-19 deaths have the potential for exponential growth due to the nature of a viral pandemic, they are dwarfed by the number of people who have died from drug overdoses in the city this year.
As of Dec. 16, the San Francisco Department of Public Health reports that 172 people have died from COVID-19. The number of overdose deaths reported through the end of October stood at 570. There were 441 in 2019.
The city will house more people in hotel rooms than it had planned thanks to a law the Board of Supervisors passed unanimously Tuesday.
The legislation, drafted by Supervisor Matt Haney, establishes an emergency ordinance that requires the city to continue its practice of housing homeless people in hotel rooms while COVID-19 remains a risk. Emergency ordinances are used to rapidly respond to crises such as pandemics, and last 60 days.
The latest pandemic order shutting down outdoor dining struck a devastating blow to restaurant owners and workers who have tried to adapt.
Maria Moreno with the Restaurant Opportunity Center United of the Bay in Oakland said the food service industry is reeling. “So many of the people in the industry are out of work right now, both undocumented and documented,” she said. “They’re just left behind right now. We’re talking like, half of the industry or more.”
As San Francisco receives doses of a vaccine against COVID-19, residents must continue to take precautions against transmission as a surge in infections continues, the director of the Department of Public Health at a Monday press briefing in which most journalists’ questions were left unanswered.
Some city supervisors are pushing to continue using hotel rooms occupied by vulnerable homeless residents during the pandemic for a second cohort after current room residents are moved into other housing. Proponents say that despite a possible loss of federal emergency funds, discontinuing the program too soon would leave thousands unsheltered during the health emergency.
Though roughly three-fourths of the assessed residents of San Francisco’s shelter-in-place hotels are minorities, the city has no plan to assure that those people get safe landing spots in proportion to their race as it prepares to wind down the program.
Of particular concern for advocates is the priority list used to determine how to allocate housing to those experiencing homelessness. This system, called coordinated entry, does not take into account race when determining who is most in need of housing, despite the predominance of African Americans among hotel residents, service providers say.
While the availability of personal protective equipment like N-95 masks has improved, a local nurse said nurses are feeling overwhelmed and would be better able to provide care with a bigger staff. For patients, she said, the experience of being hospitalized with COVID-19 is one of isolation. Even nurses limit their interactions with these patients to prevent getting infected, performing their tasks quickly.
San Francisco joined four other Bay Area counties and the city of Berkeley on Friday afternoon to announce a new lockdown ahead of a state mandate to preserve intensive care unit beds.