A second resident of the Division Circle Navigation Center on 13th Street has tested positive for COVID-19, prompting health officials to clear the facility of its 65 residents and staff Thursday morning and test all of them.
“Due to screening, we came across another client that had a high fever,” Shari Wooldridge, the executive director of St. Vincent De Paul Society confirmed to Mission Local. “We worked with DPH and got [the person] tested.”
That test came back positive, and the Department of Public Health has been at the shelter since 6:30 a.m. Thursday, testing the 60-odd residents, Wooldridge said. “The goal is to remove all remaining clients out to hotels while we await the test results.”
Woodridge said that those who test negative may eventually be moved back into the shelter, but only after it has undergone a deep cleaning. “Then we’ll go from there,” she said. A first positive test at the center was reported on April 2.
Jenna Lane, a Health Department spokeswoman, said the case was confirmed on Wednesday and the Health Department has since been conducting contact tracing and testing for the virus among Navigation Center residents. The Health Department also recommended the transfer of guests to quarantine. “That should be underway as we speak,” she said.
Shelter staff has been worried that the nonprofit has not been strict enough in enforcing shelter-in-place rules at the Navigation Center, said Jane Bosio, a representative at OPEIU Local 29, which represents most of San Francisco’s nonprofit shelter workers.
“Staff are frightened and concerned by the fact that the Navigation Center at Division Circle has not been upholding the city’s shelter in place policy,” Bosio said, while noting the importance of essential business for shelter guests. But “they’ve been allowing guests to be out for hours” with some staying out overnight. “So there’s constant re-exposure,” she said.
Bosio does not completely blame St. Vincent De Paul. “I believe this is a larger city issue,” she said. “I don’t believe the Department of Public Health is supporting employers in doing this.”
Wooldridge said that the nature of Navigation Centers, where rules are generally more relaxed and geared toward people used to living on the street, have made it difficult to enforce shelter-in-place at the facility. Residents, consequently, have been leaving and entering the shelter relatively freely.
She said she’s been hoping for a directive from the health department that may make it easier to enforce a curfew. She’s asked several times, she said.
Lane, the DPH spokeswoman, would not comment on the perceived lack of guidance. She pointed only to the department’s shelter guidance, which asks operators to “limit movement in and out of the facility,” encourage residents only to leave for essential needs, and to document their coming and going, among other measures.
“We did all things we were supposed to do,” Wooldridge continued. “How do we make somebody who has not been part of society for not so long comply to all the rules we need?”
Wooldridge also emphasized that essential business must still be conducted, such as work and doctor appointments. “Because it’s not jail — there’s gotta be balance.”
St. Vincent De Paul also runs the massive MSC South shelter in SoMa, where some 93 people tested positive for the virus around April 10. Those residents have been moved to hotel rooms and apparently did not show severe symptoms.
Lane said the shelter has since been transformed into a “post-COVID recovery site” for shelter residents who have tested positive and are not longer symptomatic, as well as shelter residents who tested positive and never showed symptoms.
Emily Cohen, the Department of Homelessness’ interim director of strategy and external affairs, said the Division Circle Navigation Center will be temporarily closed — and it’s yet to be determined whether it will also be turned into a “post-COVID recovery site.”
“It could go the same way as MSC, or not,” she said.
The 59 shelter residents that are being tested, she confined, have been moved to isolation hotel rooms. They will join the 800 homeless individuals who have been transferred to 1,141 available hotel rooms. Anther 187 will soon be available, she said.
The city, she said, is “filling them every day.”
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