As the deadly coronavirus pandemic threatens to rip through the large homeless population in Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti on Sunday said the city is working on expanding its capacity to bring more people indoors as the L.A. Convention Center was converted into a field hospital.
Another five emergency shelters were set up at L.A. City Parks recreation centers to house people, Garcetti said at a news conference Sunday. The city now has 13 of the temporary shelters open.
The mayor said the city is also getting more than 500 camper trailers from Gov. Gavin Newsom, with the first 25 arriving in Los Angeles on Sunday.
The trailers will be parked next to shelters and those who begin to show symptoms will be brought to the trailers to self-quarantine, according to the mayor.
The city also secured over 900 motel and hotel rooms that can be used to isolate or quarantine people believed to have been exposed to the virus or who are awaiting coronavirus test results, the mayor said.
Garcetti urged hotel and motel owners in the city to volunteer their rooms for those who need to quarantine themselves. Volunteers would be paid if they are selected as lodging for the city’s homeless.
During the mayor’s last coronavirus briefing on Friday, he reported what is believed to be the first COVID-19 case in L.A.’s homeless population.
Garcetti on Sunday said that the person had been staying at Dockweiler Beach where campers have been set up to quarantine people. The patient was later taken elsewhere for medical care and isolation after testing positive for the virus, according to the mayor.
Homeless people are more likely to have underlying health issues and a harder time taking the recommended precautions to protect themselves from COVID-19, L.A. County Department of Public Health Dr. Barbara Ferrer has said. This makes them more vulnerable to the illness and more likely experience worse symptoms if infected, she said.
In 2019, there were 58,936 homeless people living in Los Angeles County, including 36,300 in the city of Los Angeles alone.
Garcetti on Sunday said 4,000 of the city’s homeless who are most vulnerable, including those who have existing medical issues or are 65 years or older, were already placed in shelters two weeks ago.
Meanwhile, Army National Guard members were busy Sunday helping pack the L.A. Convention Center with cots and other supplies to help turn it into a federal medical station, Garcetti said.
The number of novel coronavirus cases in Los Angeles County on Sunday went up to 2,136 from 1,804 the day before as the county stepped up its testing for the virus. At least 1,020 of all the county’s COVID-19 patients are in the city of Los Angeles, the mayor said Sunday.
A total of 37 people have died of the respiratory illness countywide as of Sunday.
And as cases surge, it is estimated that nearly 2,600 homeless people in the Los Angeles area alone will need to be hospitalized for COVID-19, with 900 of them requiring treatment in intensive care units, according to a study by several universities, including UCLA.
The numbers threaten to overwhelm local hospitals already bracing for a flood of patients as supplies and testing remain limited statewide.
A 1,000-bed U.S. Navy hospital ship docked in the port of L.A., the USNS Mercy, began on Sunday to take in patients that don’t have the virus.
Officials believe the ship will help ease the strain on local hospitals.
Coronavirus cases in California surged to about 6,000 Sunday with at least 130 deaths.
Health officials have urged the public to practice social distancing and stay home if they can, explaining that in the absence of a vaccine, it is the best way to curb the spread of the virus.
The mayor thanked those who have adhered to stay-at-home orders, saying they are helping the city with its fight against the pandemic.
He also said he is pleased that the Trump administration has extended the nationwide voluntary shutdown deadline another month.
“This virus is nasty. It will cross borders. It ignores states. It is no longer about containment. It’s about a uniformity of action,” Garcetti said.