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More residents at Sonoma County’s largest homeless shelter test positive for COVID-19

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Officials have confirmed that over half of the 156 residents at Sonoma County’s largest homeless shelter have tested positive for COVID-19.

As of Tuesday, at least 90 residents had contracted the coronavirus since the outbreak was first detected at Samuel Jones L. Hall homeless shelter in Santa Rosa on July 2, city officials said.

A total of nine residents have been hospitalized in the outbreak, four of which have been released from care. There have been no reported deaths.

Last week, officials reported 59 COVID-19 cases while they waited to confirm 26 preliminary positive results. Frequent testing at the site has since revealed at least seven additional confirmed cases.

While the outbreak is ongoing, the shelter has stopped accepting new residents until two weeks after the last positive test.

Jennielynn Holmes, head of homelessness services at Catholic Charities in Santa Rosa, which manages the shelter, said that the most recent positive test result was a single confirmed case on Monday.

"The number of new positive cases is dwindling, and that is positive news for us," she said, adding the shelter is planning additional cleaning protocols for accepting new residents.

The outbreak in the 213-bed homeless center, and a broader surge of cases in the local community, spurred county officials to reopen an alternative care site for those needing to isolate after testing positive at the Best Western Dry Creek Inn in Healdsburg.

The care site, which is expected to remain in operation for at least 30 days, is currently housing 32 shelter residents, shelter operators said. Another six are isolating at the Sam Jones annex building, which opened in January. The other 52 people who tested positive have completed their isolation periods and have returned to the 213-bed shelter’s main hall.

Of the 90 who tested positive, 32 were fully vaccinated, officials said.

Local public health officials have said vaccinated people are far more likely to contract the coronavirus in crowded living situations with others who are unvaccinated. Many in Sam Jones had not received COVID-19 vaccines, officials said, though it is still unclear exactly how many.

The county health department is working to confirm if the outbreak was caused by the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus.

Clarissa Millarker, a Sam Jones resident since March, said she was staying in the sparsely populated annex after testing positive on Sunday.

“Things seem pretty peaceful here,” said Millarker, who is vaccinated.

Millarker had experienced only mild cold symptoms and was hopeful she would leave isolation soon.

Even as Sam Jones remains closed to new residents, authorities on Tuesday cleared a homeless camp with about 30 cars and RVs, as well as seven tents, at Sebastopol Road near Doubles Drive in west Santa Rosa

Since the Santa Rosa Fire Department declared the encampment in a residential part of the city a fire hazard, officials did not need to offer campers shelter, as required under a 2019 federal court settlement.

Still, Catholic Charities’ homeless outreach team, which contracts with Santa Rosa, made multiple visits to the site and placed four people in shelters besides Sam Jones, Holmes said.

Santa Rosa Police Sgt. Jonathan Wolf said authorities gave the rest of the campers extra time time to find new places to stay. Officers made no arrests for camping violations, and towed a car and an RV, Wolf said

He added that most encampment enforcement efforts will remain on pause until Sam Jones can take in new residents.

“There's other camps that are areas of concern, but without a shelter space, we don’t have a place to offer them to go,” Wolf said. “Absent a major concern such as fire, we aren’t going to be taking enforcement in those camps for camping.”

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story misstated the number of residents staying at the alternate care site at the Best Western Dry Creek Inn in Healdsburg.

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.

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.

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