A Covid-19 outbreak at the Division Circle Navigation Center, at 224 South Van Ness Ave., has infected more than half of the unhoused clients staying there, with 47 guests testing positive as of Monday.
Shari Wooldridge, the director of St. Vincent de Paul, which oversees the navigation center, said the center was housing 88 clients when the outbreak started, just under its full capacity of 92 under covid protocols. She said this is the biggest outbreak she’s seen since the very early days of the pandemic.
The site tests its clients regularly, and found seven positive cases on Wednesday, Dec. 22. By Thursday, there were another 15 positive cases. Yesterday, Dec. 27, another 20 clients tested positive, Wooldridge said.
Vaccination rates among the city’s homeless population, meanwhile, sit at roughly 65 percent, according to what Wooldridge has been told by the Department of Public Health.
The San Francisco Department of Public Health did not confirm this vaccination rate when asked, but said in a statement, “Most [California] cases are in un-vaccinated individuals, but breakthrough cases in vaccinated individuals have also been identified. Based on the current understanding of omicron, including the rapid transmissibility and asymptomatic or mild symptoms of disease, the current recommendations include cohorting clients within a shelter setting.”
When there is an outbreak at homeless shelters, Wooldridge said the city provides transportation to isolation-and-quarantine hotels. But she said in this case, there was a “huge delay” in getting the large group of covid-positive people off the premises.
“The city could do a little bit better job of preparing, already knowing that the virus is spreading,” Wooldridge said. “So they need to anticipate a little bit better that somebody is going to have an outbreak.”
After “several hours,” most of those who tested positive were transported to isolation-and-quarantine hotels on Monday, but a couple of covid-positive clients left before city transportation arrived to take them to a different shelter. The three or four infected staff members are self-isolating elsewhere.
A few members of the staff, who did not test positive for covid, ended up having to walk several people to a quarantine hotel.
Though the source of the outbreak is still unknown, Wooldridge said she got an email from the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing on Dec. 22, alerting the center that a city worker who visited the site had tested positive. That may have started the outbreak, she said.
Navigation centers are low-barrier, city-funded facilities which serve as an alternative to traditional homeless shelters. They allow pets, partners and personal items, and don’t enforce curfews.
During the pandemic, the Division Circle Navigation Center cut its original capacity of over 180 beds in half. While the center is continuing to follow safety measures, and the covid cases were generally mild, Wooldridge said “a lot of the staff are nervous, a little bit on edge.” The Department of Public Health confirmed that admissions to the navigation center were paused last week.
Early in 2020, St. Vincent de Paul had a large outbreak at its Multi-Service Center South homeless shelter, when about 110 people tested positive.
In a related story, 10 residents tested positive on Monday at the Next Door shelter at Polk and Geary streets, according to Steve Good. He’s the executive director of Five Keys, which operates that shelter.
Some 160 people are living at Next Door presently. Good said nine of the individuals were asymptomatic and one had mild symptoms. All 10 have been moved off-site to a hotel.
This story was updated with additional reporting by Joe Eskenazi, as well as a statement from the Department of Public Health.
Dec. 29 update: Three more clients tested positive at the Division Circle Navigation Center on Wednesday, as did three staff members at the Multi-Service Center South shelter.
The Next Door shelter reported no new cases among clients, but Good said positive cases have been found among its housing staff of about 200, and many employees are being sent home “right and left” with covid symptoms. “Staffing is a real challenge,” he said.