Napa County taking steps to protect homeless from COVID-19

March 27, 2020
Napa Valley Register

By Barry Eberling

Napa County is moving ahead with a new plan to try to protect the local homeless population and county farmworker center residents from COVID-19.

On Friday, the county announced it is leasing rooms at a city of Napa motel for an isolation center. People at high risk for COVID-19 living in such county-run congregate care facilities as the South Napa Shelter and farmworker housing dormitories will be brought there.

“It’s for people who are not showing symptoms necessarily, but we don’t want them to be in a congregate care facility,” county Housing and Homeless Services Director Molly Rattigan said.

That’s because they are elderly or have underlying medical conditions that make them more likely to contract and spread the virus, she said.

The county will rent 53 rooms at $50 a day, plus utilities and other operational costs, Rattigan said. It can use homeless service funding from the state to pay the cost. County officials and officials with Abode Services, which runs the county shelters, will be onsite.

“Meals and things will be brought in, so there shouldn’t be a reason for anybody to leave,” Rattigan said.

Rattigan asked the Napa Valley Register not to divulge the location of the motel to protect clients and security of staff.

In addition, the county will establish a temporary shelter in a building at Napa County Airport for up to 42 people. This will provide a place where congregate care facility residents with COVID-19-like symptoms can go.

Rattigan said the airport shelter won’t be a hospital, but will be for the ill who are well enough to self-isolate.

Also, the Napa winter shelter at Napa Valley Expo is open day and night, instead of just being open overnight. Rattigan said that is to keep people there from going to the South Napa Day Center at the South Napa Shelter during the day.

People who are homeless, transient and/or living in congregate living facilities are among the highest risk to contract COVID-19 and spread the illness to the greater community, Rattigan said.

Napa County has released a request-for-proposals for janitorial services at the temporary quarantine and isolation facilities. Whoever is chosen must follow COVID-19-related guidelines, including having employees wear eye protection, isolation gowns, face masks and N95 respirators, the request said.

Elise Riley, a professor at the University of California, San Francisco who specializes in the spread of infectious diseases among the homeless, spoke to the Napa Valley Register earlier this month about the COVID-19 risk to the homeless.

“A lot of people experiencing homelessness are contending with not just one, but multiple pre-existing health conditions – everything from infection to malnutrition,” Riley said.

The Jan. 22, 2019 one-night “point in time” count for Napa County found 322 homeless people. Of that total, 132 were in emergency shelters, 40 were in transitional housing and 150 were unsheltered.