Mayor London Breed and other city officials at San Francisco’s Wednesday press briefing announced a forthcoming contact tracing app, more mental health access, and a new testing facility. At the same time, officials noted an ongoing issue with getting enough swabs for tests.
Although the mayor offered no timeline for reopening the city and warned against doing so too early, she said that whenever it reopened, San Francisco would be a very different city. “After we come out of this, there are going to be challenges,” she said adding that restaurants may need to go to half capacity – a move that would have implications for their staff, rent and food. She said that the future of tourism and small and large businesses was filled with uncertainty. A task force, she said, will look at the post-quarantine landscape to figure out how the city can help.
Dr. Grant Colfax, director of the Department of Public Health, talked about using the contact tracing app — one that has yet to get a name – to identify and follow Bay Area residents who may have been exposed to confirmed cases of COVID-19.
In partnership with the Department of Public Health, UCSF and Dimagi, a software company that has assisted the Centers for Disease Control, Colfax said also that more than 50 city workers and UCSF medical students have been trained to do the contact investigation work. This includes city staff who have been redirected into this role, such as librarians and staff from the Department of Public Health and City Attorney’s office.
Colfax said that trained staff will contact people who have been in close contact with confirmed cases and reach out regularly to them for symptom updates. Such individuals “will be able to receive daily text messages or phone calls checking in on their health and symptoms throughout the 14-day monitoring period,” Colfax said.
Colfax expects 150 more people will be trained in the next two weeks.
Staff from the Department of Public Health are currently practicing contact tracing through interviews with confirmed cases, which Colfax says proved effective in tracing and testing suspected cases after the outbreak at MSC South shelter last week. However, most of those tested were in the center.
He reported that 92 homeless residents and 10 staff members contracted COVID-19 at MSC South shelter. At Laguna Honda Hospital, four residents and 14 staff members are confirmed positive with the coronavirus. Colfax said that all four residents who have tested positive are in “good condition.”
Colfax said that the contact tracing app “will allow for swifter, more efficient communication, better data tracking, and stronger interventions to reduce spread” of the coronavirus.
The contact tracing app is currently in the testing phase, he said.
He and Breed also assured residents that they will not ask for any information on immigration status from anyone, either through the contact tracing app or through the city’s new testing facility, CityTestSF.
Breed said the SoMa facility will be available for city workers, high-risk populations, and residents who do not have medical insurance.
Located at 600 7th St., a future affordable housing site, eligible residents can schedule appointments here, according to the mayor’s press statement.
Although the city is expanding testing capacity, Colfax said that the Health Department is still hamstrung by a limited supply of swabs and of the medium the swabs are put into after the test and before processing.
In other news, the mayor announced new mental health resources that residents can access through 311. The mayor and health officials also declined to require residents to wear face masks and said masks were still recommendations.
In terms of hospital capacity, Colfax said that there are 1,200 beds and 436 ICU beds available for a potential future surge. Chinese Hospital also opened up 23 hospital beds for patients discharged from San Francisco General Hospital.
Human Services Agency director Trent Rohrer, speaking after Colfax, said the city now has 2,151 hotel rooms in 14 hotels. About six out of every 10 rooms are reserved for the vulnerable homeless population. The rest – some 800 rooms in two hotels – are for first responders and city employees.
He said that 81 hotels, with a total capacity of 12,000 rooms, have expressed interest in being part of the city’s program.
“This gives us the flexibility to increase the number of rooms should we need” it, Rohrer said.
Rohrer also reported that the city has “completed the process of identifying and offering hotel rooms” to vulnerable, single adults aged 60 and older who are in the city’s homeless shelter system.
There are 874 unsheltered individuals in the 1,271 rooms available for the vulnerable homeless population, said Rohrer.
“Not all of them have taken our offer to move to our hotel rooms,” he said, referring to shelter and unhoused residents.
San Francisco Police Chief William Scott also reminded residents to continue practicing social distancing, especially as the weather gets better and as people would likely want to be outside more. He also announced the police will be in full force as the annual 420 celebration draws near.
“420 is canceled this year,” he said. “If you plan to show up, the consequences probably won’t be favorable to you.”
Scott said that the police will fence off parks and close down streets where 420 is usually celebrated.
“If we have to cite, we will. If we have to arrest, we will,” Scott said. “Simply said, we want to make it difficult for anybody who is thinking about attending a 420 event. We want to make it difficult in the best interest of public health.”