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Proactive Testing to Detect and Contain COVID-19 Identifies Two Positive Individuals at Shelter to Home Operation

Sunday, April 26, 2020 - NEWS RELEASE

SAN DIEGO – As part of a proactive testing effort to detect anyone who may have COVID-19 but not show symptoms, two individuals were identified Saturday as positive for the virus at the emergency homeless shelter within the San Diego Convention Center. These are the only positive tests to date after more than 660 have been administered to shelter residents, staff and volunteers.

Following pre-established procedures to isolate and treat anyone who tests positive, one individual was notified and taken to a local hotel managed by the County of San Diego. Despite attempts to counsel and coordinate transportation to a hotel room to isolate, the second individual left the facility. A Public Health Order for isolation has been issued for this individual. Homeless Outreach Teams and shelter providers will isolate this person as soon as they are located. 

UPDATE as of 4:26 p.m. 4/26/2020: The second individual mentioned has been located and is in isolation in a hotel room managed by the County of San Diego.

Public health investigators are working with shelter staff to determine if there are any significant exposures at the convention center that call for retesting or evaluation. Persons in isolation will be kept off-site until it is deemed safe for them to return to the shelter or be released to a permanent housing solution based on CDC guidelines. The County of San Diego provides private accommodation with care and support services for those self-isolating in the hotel rooms.

Testing began on April 16 as a preemptive move to identify asymptomatic residents, staff or volunteers who may be infected with the virus but show little to no symptoms. The decision to test residents is another 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.

“This proactive testing helped staff identify cases that otherwise could have been missed and protect the health of all working and taking up shelter here,” Mayor Kevin Faulconer said. “Appropriate action was taken because we were prepared for the real possibility that individuals who may not feel or appear ill can still have COVID-19. Health professionals will continue to monitor and isolate anyone who poses a health risk to the broader community.”

“We put a testing protocol in place to provide the highest level of protection possible to the individuals who test positive, and the others at the convention center,” said Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, Co-Chair of the County’s COVID-19 Subcommittee. “While these two cases represent a small percentage of the total tests conducted, it reinforces the need to provide testing, tracing and treatment. The protocol to manage these situations was well thought out and is being properly followed.”

“All the planning and precautions we’ve taken at the convention center were to ensure that all our shelter residents remain healthy,” said Tamera Kohler, CEO of the Regional Task Force on the Homeless. “This was no different. Our teams followed all of the guidance issued by public health officials to isolate and prevent the spread of this illness to this vulnerable population. We will continue to monitor and test everyone to keep this shelter a safe place during this difficult time.”

Ongoing 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 when moving about or leaving the convention center
  • Prevention and safety announcements every two hours from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. over the PA system
  • Cleaning and sanitizing surfaces and the facility frequently
  • Evaluating and isolating individuals exhibiting any symptoms of illness and transferring off-site if necessary

Family Health Centers of San Diego, through a generous donation made by the Lucky Duck Foundation, and Father Joe’s Villages Health Center, in partnership with UC San Diego Health, are providing the free COVID-19 testing. Medical professionals are available to 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.

“Proud to support this effort and the two positive test results underscore the need to test anyone staying or working at the convention center,” said Mitch Mitchell, Board member of the Lucky Duck Foundation.

Test results conducted at the convention center to date:

  • 663 tests administered
    • 458 shelter clients
    • 205 staff or volunteers
  • 2 positive
  • All other test results – representing 99 percent of the total tests administered – have come back negative with a few deemed indeterminant (swab sample was inadequate, and retesting is needed)


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.

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.

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 updates on City of San Diego services, programs, links to helpful information and steps the public can take to help reduce the spread of the disease, please visit sandiego.gov/coronavirus.

For information regarding COVID-19 cases and directives from County of San Diego public health officials, please visit coronavirus-sd.com. 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 COVID19.ca.gov.

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