Long Beach confirms first COVID-19 infection in homeless resident

Reaching a long-dreaded benchmark, Long Beach has confirmed its first case of COVID-19 in the local homeless population, city officials said today.

Health officials announced the development Wednesday afternoon, saying they’d just learned of the situation so few details were available.

Health Officer Dr. Anissa Davis said the man is hospitalized in stable condition, but she could not provide any details on how the case was discovered or whether the person had been in a shelter or living on the street.

Health officials are still investigating how the man may have contracted the coronavirus and whom he was in contact with recently, but Davis said the situation could be worse.

“What we’ve heard so far has been reassuring as far as exposures to other places in the city,” she said.

Mayor Robert Garcia said the city has been intensely focused on trying to limit the homeless population’s exposure to the coronavirus.

“Long Beach had a homelessness crisis before COVID-19,” he said. “And we’re still in a homelessness crisis.”

Because they often don’t have access to medical care except through an emergency room, people experiencing homelessness are especially vulnerable to COVID-19 complications, and they could put a disproportionate burden on the health system, according to Garcia.

“We’ve got to make sure that people experiencing homelessness have access to medical care and are also being taken care of,” he said.

To that end, Long Beach has opened several new homeless shelters and worked to distribute hand-washing stations across the city. The new infrastructure, however, hasn’t cured the problem.

Garcia said the shelters are at only about 60% capacity. He said the city, police and fire departments are working to reestablish homeless outreach teams that had been redeployed in other areas as the city scrambled to respond to the coronavirus. The city is also working with local hotels and motels to try to provide more shelter.

The number of COVID-19 cases in the homeless population will almost undoubtedly rise, according to Garcia.

In Los Angeles County, there have been at least 28 homeless people infected, health officials said today. The majority of them have been outside shelters, but at least three cases were reported at the Union Rescue Mission on skid row, the county’s public health director, Barbara Ferrer, said.

In total, LA County has confirmed nearly 10,500 cases of COVID-19 and recorded more than 400 deaths. Those numbers in Long Beach are 380 cases and 18 deaths.

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Jeremiah Dobruck is managing editor for the Long Beach Post. He began his journalism career in 2007 as an intern at Palos Verdes Peninsula News and has worked for The Forum Newsgroup in New York City, the Daily Pilot and the Press-Telegram.