Making a stop in San Diego this week, Vice Admiral Jerome M. Adams, U.S. Surgeon General, met with Mayor Kevin L. Faulconer and County of San Diego Public Health Officials to tour Operation Shelter to Home at the San Diego Convention Center and the diagnostic testing service developed by Helix – two key actions taken locally to help protect San Diegans during the COVID-19 global pandemic.
Operation Shelter to Home launched on April 1 to protect San Diegans experiencing homelessness by allowing for greater physical distancing, strict health guidelines and proactive COVID-19 testing. The shelter has been lauded for its ability to successfully manage a population of more than 1,000 individuals every night and keep a low positivity rate among shelter clients, staff and volunteers.
“In recent weeks and months, I have visited several states across the country to provide an update on our federal whole-of-America response to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as to get an update on efforts at the state and local levels,” Adams said. “My time in San Diego has been incredibly productive and given me unique insight to bring back to Washington. I especially appreciated the opportunity to learn about these local efforts to protect both the most vulnerable among us, the minority populations who have been more susceptible to the virus, and the cross-sector partnerships supporting the health of San Diego’s citizens.”
Among a number of disease prevention measures taken, clients and staff at the Convention Center are screened daily by temperature check and tested regularly for COVID-19. So far, only 21 residents and staff at the shelter have tested positive out of more than 7,700 tests administered. The shelter is a collaborative effort between the City, County, Regional Task Force on the Homeless, San Diego Housing Commission, Convention Center and shelter providers.
“From the pandemic’s outset, the County recognized innovative partnerships and a health-equity approach were critical to our response,” said Nick Macchione, who as director of the County’s Health and Human Services Agency developed and is overseeing the County’s T3 strategy for testing, tracing and treating. “It was an honor to be able to show Dr. Adams how that is taking place with our countywide approach to keeping the vulnerable homeless population safe and in taking advantage of federal life sciences investment for a strong COVID-19 testing relationship with the team at Helix.”
The City and County took additional steps to protect vulnerable individuals living on the streets, including:
Installing hundreds of handwashing stations throughout the region
Providing hundreds of hotel rooms with wrap-around services to high-risk individuals, including those in the homeless population
Deploying public health nurses to shelters across the region
Assigning public health nurses to Homeless Outreach Teams to educate individuals living unsheltered about COVID-19
Opening a transitional housing facility on Palm Avenue for families experiencing homelessness
Providing ongoing updates, supplies and guidance to service providers
Following a tour of the shelter, Dr. Adams then visited Helix, a San Diego-based lab that launched a PCR-based COVID-19 diagnostic testing service in early June to meet the needs of health systems, governments, employers and other organizations in California and across the country.
“Rapid and sensitive COVID-19 testing is a critical tool in the fight against COVID-19. Through our partnership with the county, we’re helping thousands of San Diegans get access to this type of testing every day,” said Marc Stapley, Helix President and CEO. “We’re thrilled to welcome Dr. Adams to San Diego to see the incredible progress we’re making together.”
Since July, Helix has partnered with the County to expand testing capacity to South Bay and underserved communities, the PedEast pedestrian crossing at the San Ysidro Port of Entry, and – just this week – to the Mexican Consulate in Little Italy downtown. The public-private partnership increased countywide testing capabilities by 2,000 tests per day.
In addition to its testing efforts, Helix is also contributing to global research efforts to advance our collective knowledge of COVID-19, from exploring novel approaches to diagnosis to exploring the genetic susceptibility of the virus.
“The San Diego region has come together like never before to address one of the worst public health and economic crises in modern history,” Faulconer said. “We’re proud to share the success of Operation Shelter to Home with Dr. Adams and how this could serve as a national model in housing those experiencing homelessness. San Diego rose to the challenge and now hundreds who had been living on the street have a permanent place to call home.”