Four out of five of Skid Row's large homeless shelters now have clusters of people who have tested positive for COVID-19, the NBC4 I-Team has learned. The virus has also hit several homeless facilities outside Los Angeles' Skid Row.
The latest cluster of cases identified is at downtown's LA Mission, where 14 residents tested positive, and now have been moved off-site.
"My first reaction was shock, and my second was disappointment, because we've tried so hard for six weeks following protocols to avoid this," said Herb Smith, CEO of the LA Mission.
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Clusters of cases have cropped up at other shelters, according to the LA County Department of Public Health website. There were four people testing positive at both the Midnight Mission and at the Weingart Center, and 100 at the Union Rescue Mission.
Dr. Barbara Ferrer, director of the LA County Department of Public Health, said Monday the county is investigating possible outbreaks at 23 homeless shelters.
"At each site, we identified staff and guests that need testing, isolation and quarantine," Ferrer said.
At the LA Mission, Smith says the shelter is sanitized three times a day, it is limiting the number of people who can come inside and it takes the temperatures of everyone entering. Still, it is faced with residents who go out into the streets every day where people are not wearing masks and not social distancing.
"The challenge that we've found is that our guests, which have overnight and day out access, are the ones who probably brought this in," Smith said.
The virus is also spreading to homeless facilities that are the centerpiece of LA Mayor Eric Garcetti's longtime effort to get the homeless off the streets permanently--called "Bridge Homes." There is now one case at the St. Andrew's Bridge Home in South LA and two cases at the Casa Azul Bridge Home in the Westlake district.
Those who work with the homeless say the key to corralling the spread of the virus is frequent testing at these homeless shelters. The Union Rescue Mission is the only shelter that does weekly testing of all people in it's building.
"I believe we need a regularly scheduled testing procedure to keep a handle on this, but DPH [Department of Public Health] has been unwilling to do that," said Smith.