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Four residents at two Santa Rosa homeless shelters test positive for COVID-19

For information about how to schedule a vaccine in Sonoma County, go here.

To track coronavirus cases in Sonoma County, across California, the United States and around the world, go here.

For more stories about the coronavirus, go here.

Four residents at two Santa Rosa homeless shelters have tested positive for COVID-19 but none has been hospitalized, officials said Wednesday.

Officials on Monday identified two cases at Santa Rosa’s Samuel Jones Hall, the largest shelter in Sonoma County. Catholic Charities of Santa Rosa, a nonprofit that operates Sam Jones, also confirmed two cases at its Family Support Center near downtown.

While it’s unclear how the virus made its way into the shelters — each currently housing over 100 residents — city and shelter officials said the new infections were not unexpected.

“Alarming, but not shocking given what’s happening communitywide,” said Kelli Kuykendall, Santa Rosa’s homeless services manager. “We’re monitoring the situation very closely.”

Officials were unable to say whether the residents who tested positive had mild or severe symptoms.

The cluster of cases comes as COVID-19 infections are beginning to surge in Sonoma County, fueled at least in part by the extremely infectious omicron variant.

The local transmission rate is now an average of 56 new daily cases per 100,000 people, according to the county’s latest COVID-19 data. Two weeks ago, the transmission rate was just under 19 new cases per 100,000 residents.

While omicron is proving to be less deadly than the delta variant, which had been the dominant strain of the virus, it’s still a significant threat to many homeless people, who often have pre-existing health conditions that make them more vulnerable to serious illness.

The virus also is more likely to spread in crowded group settings such as jails and homeless shelters. Authorities on Tuesday confirmed an outbreak at the Sonoma County Jail that triggered a lockdown for over 200 inmates.

In July, as the delta variant drove a surge in cases, a large outbreak at Sam Jones infected three-quarters of shelter residents, two of whom died of COVID-19 complications. Officials then reduced bed capacity at the shelter from 213 to 126 to allow for better social distancing.

In response to the recent outbreaks, Catholic Charities has paused accepting new residents at both sites until two consecutive weeks go by without any residents testing positive.

Shelter operators are taking additional precautions including giving residents KN95 masks, providing staff with personal protective equipment and ramping up testing.

The next round of testing at the shelter sites is set for later this week, and results are expected early next week.

Shelter residents who return a positive test are separated from others, officials said, and then taken to county-run care sites for the duration of their isolation periods.

Jennielynn Holmes, head of homelessness programs at Catholic Charities, could not say how many shelter staff have tested positive this week, or how many are currently isolating.

It was not immediately clear how many of the roughly 130 people currently staying at Sam Jones, and the 110 at the family shelter, are vaccinated — though a majority of residents have received vaccines, Holmes said, and shelter operators are working to provide booster shots that give even greater protection against the omicron variant.

You can reach Staff Writer Ethan Varian at ethan.varian@pressdemocrat.com or 707-521-5412. On Twitter @ethanvarian.

For information about how to schedule a vaccine in Sonoma County, go here.

To track coronavirus cases in Sonoma County, across California, the United States and around the world, go here.

For more stories about the coronavirus, go here.

Ethan Varian

Housing and homelessness, The Press Democrat 

I've lived in California for most of my life, and it's hard for me to remember when the state hasn't been in a housing crisis. Here in Sonoma County, sharply rising housing costs and increasing homelessness are reshaping what was long considered the Bay Area’s “affordable” region. As The Press Democrat’s housing and homelessness reporter, I aim to cover how officials, advocates, developers and residents are reacting to and experiencing the ongoing crisis.

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