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Homeless community one of most vulnerable to coronavirus | How are officials protecting them?

"I'm very concerned about the connection between the homeless community and coronavirus," Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg said.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — As people are being encouraged to stay home, one of the biggest concerns among officials and residents alike is the coronavirus spreading among those experiencing homelessness.

As an estimated 5,000+ are on the streets each night in Sacramento alone, the homeless population is one of the most vulnerable to the spread of coronavirus. That became even more evident Friday during an special City Council meeting in which Mayor Darrell Steinberg announced a local health emergency.

"I'm very concerned about the connection between the homeless community and coronavirus," Mayor Steinberg said. "We have to intensify our effort to get people indoors because living outdoors puts the homeless and others at the risk of communicable diseases and coronavirus is just the latest."

In Sacramento County, 17 people have tested positive for the coronavirus, and one person has died, according to public health officials.

The Sacramento City Council declaring a state of emergency allows them to allocate $250,000 towards "emergency response needs." A portion of that money will go towards preventing the spread of coronavirus within the homeless community by creating more wash stations and providing more sanitation supplies.

RELATED: Mayors from California's biggest cities meet amid coronavirus outbreak to tackle another crisis: homelessness

Leading the charge of preventing the pandemic for homeless is Councilmember Jeff Harris, who, in 2016, helped create "pit stops" or portable bathrooms in the city. These are being used for the homeless to help encourage cleanliness as well as other services.

"[The bathrooms] have attendants and those attendants also help steer homeless people towards services they need to improve their lot in life," Harris told ABC10.

The council also discussed possible homeless housing within Harris' District 3, as well as implementing suggestions sent in from homeless advocates. These include asking for emergency funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development so the city can purchase sanitation products, like hand sanitizer, in large quantities and help distribute to the homeless community.

Sacramento's Loaves & Fishes is especially susceptible to the transmission of coronavirus as they serve food, shelter and showers to an estimated 1,000 homeless people every single day.

While Loaves & Fishes doesn't receive government funding, Executive Director Noel Kammermann said he was surprised he hadn't heard from city or county officials on guidance of how to handle the homeless community during this pandemic. He also questioned much of an impact $250,000 would have in actual prevention of the coronavirus.

"I'm surprised that [the city or county] hasn't come our way... I've called and sent out emails requesting some information or a little feedback like, 'Are there additional things we might be able to do?'" Kammermann said.

While they've been encouraging their guests to practice increased cleanliness, washing hands and have been placing more hand sanitizers throughout their facilities, Loaves & Fishes hasn't changed their regimented daily cleanliness procedures. 

"Really every day, this campus is scrubbed from top to bottom, and we're just going to keep doing the good job we do," said Loaves & Fishes Advocacy Director Joe Smith.

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CORONAVIRUS BACKGROUND:

According to the CDC, coronavirus (COVID-19) is a family of viruses that is spreadable from person to person. Coronavirus is believed to have been first detected in a seafood market in Wuhan, China in December 2019. If someone is sick with coronavirus, the symptoms they may show include mild to severe respiratory illness, cough, and difficulty breathing.
Currently, there is no vaccine, however, the CDC suggests the following precautions, along with any other respiratory illness:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water for a minimum of 20 seconds. 

The CDC also says facemasks should only be used by people who show symptoms of the virus. If you’re not sick, you do not have to wear a facemask. The CDC says the immediate risk to the U.S. public is low.

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