Skid Row is experiencing a surge in Covid-19 infections with homeless sites in Downtown Los Angeles now ‘overwhelmed’ by the virus, officials have warned, leaving shelter bosses comparing the disease to a game of chess and calling it a ‘monster genius’.
Cases have exploded among the homeless people who live in the area, which is known for being one of the largest populations of homeless people in the United States.
After averaging around 60 new cases a week during the fall, the infection rate among Los Angeles County’s homeless people doubled in the week after Thanksgiving and have continued to rise at a rapid rate since then.
Last Tuesday, the Department of Public Health’s latest report showed 547 new cases in the previous week.
Between December 11 and December 18, there were an average of 73 coronavirus cases a day recorded among the county’s homeless population. In comparison, in late October this number was down to just five a day, highlighting the dramatic jump.
It comes as Los Angeles County is likely to hit the tragic statistic of 1,000 coronavirus-related deaths a week soon if the current trends continue, officials said Monday.
Cases in the county have doubled between November 30, at 400,000, and January 2, to 800,000. It took more than nine months to reach 400,000.
‘There was a remarkable lack of cases up until this point, and now it’s exploding,’ said Rev. Andy Bales, chief executive of the area’s Union Rescue Mission.
Bales compared the situation to a chess match. ‘We’ve never been at this point before,’ he said.
‘It feels like playing a chess match against a monster genius. This thing is wicked.’
Bales added: ‘The unexplainable protection that people who are homeless have had from COVID is disappearing.
‘All of skid row and many agencies/missions are hot spots. All are overwhelmed.’
A tent that was set up to accommodate rising numbers of homeless people on Skid Row has now been transformed into a triage space for COVID-19 cases, as Department of Health Services program Housing for Health struggled to respond to a sudden surge in the spread of the disease.
In a statement to the Los Angeles Times, Rev. Bales said: ‘We were able to make yet 1 more chess move against this Monster Genius Covid.
‘We moved our men inside to 2nd floor and handed over keys last Sunday.’
The rising number of infections on Skid Row prompted Dr. Heidi Behforouz, medical director for L.A. County’s Housing for Health program, to take action to try and move homeless people who test positive for the virus into isolation.
Skid Row is the location of one of the largest stable populations of homeless people in the U.S. with over 5,000 inhabitants, 3,000 of which sleep in tents or on the sidewalk.
The homeless are among the most vulnerable people in Los Angeles with many suffering from underlying health conditions, as well as drink and drug addiction.
According to a report released last year by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, heart disease is the third biggest cause of death among the homeless.
It is also one of the serious underlying conditions that can produce a worse outcome in those who are infected with COVID-19.
Los Angeles County’s Housing for Health has been working to provide medically vulnerable people, including homeless people, with accommodation amid the pandemic.
The agency opened five new isolation sites in December to accommodate rising cases.
Los Angeles County health officials fear the incoming Christmas and New Year’s surge.
The additional Thanksgiving cases have swamped hospitals, forcing them to treat patients in hallways, ambulances and the gift shop, and forced an oxygen shortage.
Los Angeles County on Monday reported 77 additional deaths, which include a reporting lag over the weekend, bringing the total to 10,850 in the nation’s most populous county.
Officials also reported 9,142 new cases – a lower figure due to testing sites being closed during the New Year holiday – to make a total of 827,498. The variant has not yet been detected in the county but officials believe it is here.
Nearly 7,700 people are hospitalized countywide for COVID-19 and 21% are in intensive care units.
‘We’re likely to experience the worst conditions in January that we’ve faced the entire pandemic – and that’s hard to imagine,’ county public health director Barbara Ferrer said at a briefing.