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Regional Interests

47 Residents at Sonoma County Homeless Shelter Test Positive for Delta Variant

A total of 47 residents at a homeless shelter in Santa Rosa have tested positive for the delta variant of the coronavirus over the last week, officials said.

The outbreak has affected almost a third of the 153 residents at Samuel L. Jones Hall, Sonoma County’s largest homeless shelter.

The majority of those infected were unvaccinated, Jennielynn Holmes said on Thursday. Holmes leads homeless services at Catholic Charities, the nonprofit managing the shelter.

According to Homes, just one homeless resident has been hospitalized, and no one else with a positive test has severe symptoms.

She said they’re fortunate to have enough space to help those who have tested positive and those who haven’t.

“We can separate the two populations and make sure that we’re giving the appropriate medical care and isolation space for those who are positive, while also continuing to test at a pretty regular basis those that are living in our other site,” Holmes said.

She said they’ve maintained fairly strict COVID guidelines, even after the state and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevent lifted some rules. They still require masking and social distancing, and are cleaning the facilities multiple times a day.

The outbreak comes amid a broader uptick in local COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, predominantly among unvaccinated people.

Sonoma County’s “case rate and hospitalization rate has been slowly increasing, due primarily to spread of the virus among unvaccinated individuals,” according to a press release from Tuesday.

The highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus has spread rapidly among the unvaccinated population, causing a rise in new cases and hospitalizations. It now accounts for most new infections in the state.

In California, anyone 12 and over is eligible for the vaccine. So far, about 70% of that population in California has received at least one dose.

Homeless people have been among the hardest to reach in the months-long inoculation campaign.

The outbreak is only the second time the coronavirus has been detected at the Sam Jones Hall shelter. There was a smaller cluster of cases in January during the peak of the pandemic, according to Holmes.

“The delta variant is reacting with the homeless population much differently than the original COVID situation,” she said. “We had very few cases for the entire pandemic.”

Across Sonoma County, 62 homeless people have tested positive within the past two weeks, according to Kathryn Pack, a manager of the county health department’s epidemiology team. That’s a 48% jump in the homeless population’s total COVID-19 caseload, which now stands at 191 since the start of the pandemic.

This story includes reporting from KQED’s Keith Mizuguchi and the Associated Press.

Copyright 2021 KQED