COVID-19 Spreads Faster Through LA's Homeless Population

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The deadly coronavirus is now spreading faster through Los Angeles' homeless population, outreach workers tell the NBC4 I-Team. Sources say at least 23 more homeless people have tested positive for COVID-19, with fears an explosion of cases is not far behind.

"Nothing has changed on Skid Row. There's no social distancing," said Estela Lopez, who represents business owners in the Skid Row area.

NBC4's cameras Tuesday documented crowds of people on Skid Row lined up side-by-side to get handouts of food, grouped closely together on benches in San Julian Park and sleeping in tents pitched next to each other.

In another sign the virus is spreading, the Union Rescue Mission told NBC4 three more people living there have tested positive and several others who were in contact with those men have now been moved offsite to a hotel to be quarantined. One worker from the Mission died of COVID-19 last week.

LA Mayor Eric Garcetti weeks ago vowed to find shelter spaces and motel rooms to get many homeless inside and away from crowded conditions during the pandemic. But the city's 20 temporary shelters are now full.

To ease the crowding in Skid Row, the city said Tuesday it was handing out 600 more tents "to symptomatic unsheltered residents..to shelter in place," according to federal court documents obtained by the I-Team.

To Lopez, that's a band-aid approach that won't do much. "What we need to do, and do quickly, is stop relying on window dressing to address this crisis," Lopez said.


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She and other business leaders think the city should find large open spaces so the homeless could pitch their tents far apart, like Dodger Stadium. The stadium has been made available for rental car companies to store unused cars during the pandemic.

"We're able to move an inventory of cars to keep them safe, and we're not able to somehow provide a measure of safety for human beings living on the sidewalk?" Lopez asked.

Also Tuesday, the city said in court papers that it will ramp up COVID-19 testing, deploying "20 testing machines" in the coming weeks to areas with large homeless populations. 

The machines are supposed to return test results within 20 minutes. "This technology will help to exponentially increase the volume of testing for persons experiencing homelessness in Skid Row," court documents said.

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