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What’s LA Doing To Protect Its 50K+ Homeless Population From Coronavirus?

Homeless encampments on Skid Row, photographed on June 30, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (James Bernal for KPCC) James Bernal
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Counties across California are bracing for the possible spread of COVID-19 in their communities.

But what’s being done to protect L.A.’s homeless population of more than 50,000?

When it comes to the new coronavirus, L.A. County Department of Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer said she’s worried about people experiencing homelessness. She told us:

"I'm not worried about homeless people spreading the disease to non-homeless people. I’m worried about homeless people being infected and spreading the disease amongst themselves as they live in these very close, sort of challenging conditions.”

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The public health message has been to:

  • Stay home if you’re sick
  • Wash your hands
  • Call a doctor if you experience COVID 19 symptoms.

Ferrer says all that’s difficult advice to follow if you’re homeless. And people living on the streets tend to be sicker from a range of pre-existing conditions.
The Department of Public Health is briefing shelter providers on some possible strategies. That includes keeping winter shelters open longer, Ferrer said. “It’s certainly easier for people to take better care of themselves in terms of public health practices — was your hands, etc. — if you’re indoors,” she said.

Ferrer is also recommending that shelters provide as much space between people as possible in sleeping quarters and try to isolate sick people when possible.