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L.A. To Consider Implementing Portable Restrooms In Face Of Hepatitis A Outbreak

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On Wednesday, an L.A. City Council committee voted unanimously to consider a plan that would bring portable restrooms to Los Angeles' vulnerable populations amid a hepatitis A outbreak.

Governor Jerry Brown deemed the statewide hepatitis A outbreak as a state of emergency last week. The statewide outbreak has largely been concentrated in San Diego, but a separate outbreak in Los Angeles was declared in September when it became clear two of the 10 cases of hepatitis A in Los Angeles were locally acquired and had no connection to the outbreaks in San Diego or Santa Cruz.

Access to restrooms are an instrumental component in fighting hepatitis A because the virus is transmitted through feces. Typically, contraction occurs when the virus is taken in by mouth from contact with objects, food, or drinks contaminated by the feces (or stool) of an infected person, according to the CDC. The virus affects homeless communities most aggressively because of the lack of sanitary restrooms. For example, Skid Row only has nine public restrooms available at night for the neighborhood's 1,800 residents.

Councilman Mike Bonin presented the motion, which was unanimously approved by the City Council's Homelessness and Poverty Committee. The motion calls on the city to explore ways of providing better access to clean restrooms and explore the potential for implementing a system of portable restrooms.

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According to the motion, the city will primarily need to analyze possible locations and access to funding. "Best practices indicate public restrooms should be staffed by attendants to keep the facilities clean and free of criminal activity. And even if adequate funding were available, there remains a lack of adequate space in our dense neighborhoods to place restrooms without encroaching in the public right-of-way," the motion states. The motion requests a report on what type of funding may be available as well as a study of the best possible locations for the restrooms. This includes outlining the protocol for installing restrooms in walkways or parking lots, provided no other locations are "suitable or practical."

The motion cites San Francisco's "Pit Stop" program as a model for what Los Angeles could do locally. The "Pit Stop" program is a partnership between BART and the City of San Francisco, providing public, portable restrooms at 17 locations across the city, according to City News Service.

L.A.'s outbreak has yet to reach the size of San Diego's outbreak, which was declared a public health emergency in September. San Diego has seen 490 cases and 19 deaths from the virus so far.

Dr. Gil Chavez of the California Department of Public Health's Center for Infectious Diseases said, "I think there are two keys to preventing hepatitis A—one being vaccination, and two being good access to sanitation," according to City News Service. An increased number of portable restrooms would help to address the sanitation issue.