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Homelessness Strategies and Solutions

Proactive COVID-19 Testing Begins for Shelter Residents at Convention Center

Preventive Measures Go Above and Beyond to Protect Homeless Population, Identify and Contain Virus Early

Thursday, April 16, 2020 - NEWS RELEASE

SAN DIEGO – In a preemptive move to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, today Family Health Centers of San Diego in consultation with San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency and the City of San Diego began offering on-site testing for shelter residents at the San Diego Convention Center. Offering this testing free and voluntary to all in the convention center will help to identify and contain the virus earlier.

In accordance with national and local trends, it is possible that there will be shelter residents, staff or volunteers who test positive, even if they show little to no symptoms. Processes are in place to immediately isolate and treat anyone who tests positive in order to protect the health of all in the convention center. Convention center guests will be tested in groups of up to 150 per day beginning with shelter clients served by Veterans Village of San Diego Thursday.

"This preemptive testing will identify and contain the virus earlier if it is present, helping staff respond proactively and get people into treatment sooner," Mayor Kevin L. Faulconer said. "Anyone experiencing homelessness who comes into the convention center will receive health monitoring and treatment that's critical to both their personal well-being and the health of the broader community."

The decision to test residents is another proactive and preventive step the City of San Diego, County of San Diego, San Diego Housing Commission, and Regional Task Force on the Homeless are taking to provide a safe environment for this highly vulnerable population. There is no requirement from public health officials that shelter residents need to be tested if they are not presenting symptoms of the illness.

“The Lucky Duck Foundation’s generous donation of these tests elevates our preventative measures to protect people experiencing homelessness,” said Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, Vice-Chair of the Regional Task Force on the Homeless and Co-Chair of the County’s COVID-19 Task Force. “It is a testament to the commitment made by local government, service providers and nonprofits to work in a coordinated manner to slow the spread of coronavirus.”

Other preventive measures being taken at the shelter include:

  • Screening clients and staff at the convention center daily by temperature check and verbal questionnaire
  • Washing and sanitization of hands upon each re-entry into the facility
  • Wearing a face covering is strongly recommended when moving about or leaving the convention center
  • Prevention and safety messages are announced every two hours from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. over the PA system
  • Cleaning and sanitizing surfaces in the facility frequently
  • Evaluating and isolating individuals exhibiting any symptoms of illness and transferring off-site if necessary

Availability of the testing was a result of a generous donation made by the Lucky Duck Foundation, a local non-profit that has contributed greatly to supporting San Diego’s efforts to reduce homelessness throughout the years. The group has also contributed pallets of bottled water and care kits that include a backpack, pair of socks, snacks, water, T-shirt and book.

Family Health Centers of San Diego will provide the COVID-19 on-site testing. Medical professionals will educate clients on the tests, assist in self-administering the test, deliver results to individuals and work with County public health officials to quickly and safely isolate any people who test positive. They will also work with the County of San Diego on reporting positive and negative test results in a manner that protects residents’ privacy rights.

The following is the process after test results are received: 

Positive Test Result:  

In the event of a positive test result, the individual will immediately be placed in a face mask (if not already wearing one) and directed to an isolation area within the medical unit. A public health staff member will arrange transportation to one of the public health hotel rooms managed by San Diego County. While there, daily wellness checks and meals will be provided for the length of stay.

To prevent the spread of the illness to others, all individuals who test positive will remain at the off-site location until it is deemed safe for them to return to the shelter or be released to a permanent housing solution based on CDC guidelines.

Negative Test Result:

Everyone being tested will be advised of the public health guidance that a negative test is only a snapshot in time and steps must continue to be taken to avoid contracting COVID-19. They will continue to be monitored and screened for symptoms daily as well as instructed to follow all health and hygiene practices.

Background on Operation Shelter to Home:

One of the core missions of Operation Shelter to Home is to find permanent housing for individuals. Case managers and housing navigators are focused on identifying the most appropriate exit strategy for shelter clients and working to end their cycle of homelessness, with the goal of ultimately reducing the number of individuals experiencing homelessness in San Diego.

Operation Shelter to Home launched on April 1 by moving individuals already in shelters into the San Diego Convention Center to allow for proper physical distancing to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Because the effects of the pandemic were creating staffing challenges at the City’s various shelters, the program centralized staff in one place to ensure personnel could be efficient even with limited numbers.

On April 10, outreach staff began to bring in unsheltered individuals living on San Diego streets into the convention center to provide a safe and sanitary environment amid the pandemic.

For information regarding COVID-19 cases and directives from County of San Diego public health officials, please visit Text “COSD COVID19” to 468-311 for text alert updates.

A statewide “Stay-at-Home” order is in effect until further notice. For more information on the order, including what’s closed, what’s open and which industries are exempted by the state, please visit