San Francisco designates new COVID-19 testing site to front line workers, changes policy on homeless

On Monday, San Francisco announced the opening of a COVID-19 testing facility dedicated to workers on the front lines of the pandemic. 

The CityTestSF site builds on San Francisco's testing capacity and commitment to protecting workers engaged in the COVID-19 fight.

While the city's stay-at-home order remains in effect, police officers, firefighters, and health care professionals are still hard at work. 

Seamless and efficient access to testing is critical essential workers get the care and treatment they need if they are exposed to COVID-19 and to prevent additional spread of the disease to others. 

"They are doing the workday in and day out to keep us safe and keep our city running,” said Mayor Breed. “Expanding testing is critical. Our first responders need to know with confidence that they can safely return to work and spend time in their homes with their families, or if the need to isolate and get medical care." 

The CityTestSF facility started drive-thru and walk-through operations by appointments on Monday. The site is able to conduct 200 COVID-19 tests per day by the end of the week.

Testing will be prioritized at first for San Francisco first responders and city health care workers with symptoms of COVID-19 who are currently quarantined and kept away from both work and their families. To date, over 200 front line workers have been in a 14-day quarantine

The tests are provided at no cost to employees in partnership with San Francisco's health care plan providers.

Breed also announced that in light of three people within the city's shelter system having tested positive for the virus, the city will no longer move forward with expanding its shelter system and instead move to place vulnerable homeless people, both in shelters and on the streets, into hotel rooms.

"We need to think about making changes to avoid having an outbreak or situation in places like Moscone West or any place else where we know there are large populations of people, regardless of our CDC guidelines being 
implemented," she said. "The Moscone West facility will now be used to house 
people who have been in quarantine and recovered from COVID-19 or people who 
had been quarantined and test negative for COVID-19. This will allow us to 
free up hotel rooms we don't have when people no longer need them."

The first case of a person in the shelter system to test positive was reported at the Division Circle Navigation Center, while the two others were reported at the Multi-Service Center South shelter.

After the cases were confirmed, health officials looking into the cases discovered the two people who tested positive at the MSC South shelter came into contact with at least 19 other shelter residents who had already moved into the city's newest shelter at the Moscone West location.

As a result, those 19 people will be moved into hotel rooms for quarantine, as a precautionary measure. Additionally, the population at Moscone West will be reduced to 200 beds, each separated by partitions.

Under the new strategy, Trent Rhorer, executive director of the City and County of San Francisco Human Services Agency, said the city will now begin to move homeless people either from the street or already in the shelter system who are 60 years and older and those with underlying health conditions into hotels rooms.

So far, Rhorer said, the city has leased 945 rooms in 8 hotels across the city and has admitted more than 150 people into rooms. Rhorer estimates the city will need 4,500 hotel rooms.

The new strategy is a change from the city's initial plan to expand its shelters and provide hotel rooms for homeless people within the shelter system or those who live in single room occupancy hotels who either have COVID-19 symptoms, tested positive, or may have been exposed.

City supervisors criticized that initial plan and have called on the city to acquire hotel rooms for all of the city's homeless and to stop placing them in congregate living situations like shelters, where they said the virus is more likely to spread.

In response, Supervisor Matt Haney announced Monday he had partnered with United Methodist Church to place 17 men living at the Hospitality House shelter in the Tenderloin in hotel rooms.

Although none of the 17 men have any known exposure to COVID-19, Haney said, "This is an appropriate and necessary response to protect public health."

The hotel rooms are being paid for in large part with a $100,000 donation from the United Methodist Church, according to Haney.

Additionally, Supervisor Dean Preston last week helped move 39 people staying at shelters operated by the Providence Foundation into a hotel. Haney said he's next working on moving 36 trans and cis-gender women into hotel rooms, through a partnership with a nonprofit.

During Monday's briefing, San Francisco Health Director Dr. Grant Colfax said the number of COVID-19 cases at Laguna Honda Hospital had grown over the weekend to 16. Twelve of those cases are among staff, while the other two are residents at the hospital, which serves as a long-term care facility for the elderly.

Since the cases were initially confirmed, hospital visits were prohibited, parts of the hospital were placed under quarantine and staff members are now required to wear isolation masks.

Additionally, Colfax added that an investigation into how the virus may have spread at the hospital showed that staffers "unintentionally appear to be the source in many of these cases, if not all of these cases."

Bay City News contributed to this report.