By SDCNN Staff
City and county officials continue efforts to combat the hepatitis A crisis. To date, 17 people have died from “hep A” this year and more than 450 people have been sickened by the virus. It’s the worst outbreak in the United States this year.
The crisis has brought to town investigators from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as a documentary crew from HBO’s “Vice” series. Media worldwide have reported the outbreak.
On Friday, Sept. 29, the city began cleaning up the San Diego River area of debris and offered to relocate the homeless to safe and sanitary living conditions. Mayor Kevin L. Faulconer and Councilmembers Scott Sherman and Lorie Zapf oversaw the effort.
“We are committed to beating hepatitis A, and doctors are clear that starts with vaccinating our most at-risk residents and keeping public areas clean. I am working with county nurses to bring vaccinations directly to homeless individuals and … we’re clearing debris to keep the riverbed clean,” Mayor Faulconer. “This is going to help stop the spread of the virus, protect our most vulnerable residents and restore our natural habitat. Our sanitation efforts will continue for as long as needed to address this public health emergency.”
With a number of San Diego’s homeless population living along the San Diego River, the city and county are focused on conducting sanitation and vaccination efforts for the at-risk population living along the riverbed. Mayor Faulconer has directed crews from the city’s Environmental Services Department to clear the riverbed of trash and debris while the San Diego Police Department’s Homeless Outreach Team offers shelter opportunities and supportive services to homeless individuals there. County health officials are providing onsite hepatitis A vaccinations.
“The San Diego River is a sensitive wetland that must be protected,” Councilmember Sherman said. “For their own health and safety, it is vitally important to remove homeless encampments from the river and offer individuals the help and services they need. This action is an important first step.”
The cleanup complements existing year-round efforts by the city to clean and preserve the environmentally-sensitive habitat. The city is planning additional cleanup activities over the coming weeks as part of the ongoing regional effort to stop the spread of the hepatitis A virus.
As part of an annual contract with the San Diego River Foundation, the city funds weekly river inspections and an annual inspection that covers the length of the river. The River Park Foundation removed more than 66 tons of trash and debris from the river bed so far this year. It is estimated that 90 percent of trash and debris can be attributed to homeless individuals living near the river.
“I appreciate Mayor Faulconer for cleaning up this environmentally sensitive habitat and for helping to prevent the spread of hepatitis A,” Councilmember Zapf said.
The city has a similar contract with I Love a Clean San Diego, where the city sponsors 15 cleanups a year — three of which occurred in the San Diego River last year.
The riverbed cleanup is the latest step in an unprecedented sanitation effort by the city to eradicate the virus from public areas including sidewalks in the Downtown area and other communities based on need. Over the past few weeks, cleaning crews have cleaned sidewalks in Hillcrest, North Park, Ocean Beach, Pacific Beach and the Midway in addition to Downtown.
The city has also significantly expanded 24-hour access to public restrooms in areas near large homeless populations. In coordination with the city, the county has installed 63 handwashing stations throughout Downtown and surrounding neighborhoods, as of Sept. 29.
Also, the city has installed new restroom facilities Downtown at Tailgate Park, based on need in the East Village neighborhood.
“We hope these restrooms are well used to help prevent the spread of hepatitis A,” said Jonathan Herrera, the city’s senior policy advisor on homelessness coordination. “We will continue to monitor the restrooms and ensure they remain operational.”
Four temporary portable restrooms were installed in Tailgate Park at 14th and L streets. They will be maintained per the county’s disinfection guidelines at least two times per day and be monitored with full-time security to ensure a safe environment for users and the surrounding community.
Tailgate Park is the third location where the city has added restrooms since Sept. 15. The first two sites were at First Avenue at C Street, adjacent to City Hall, and 1330 G St., in the East Village.
There are now 22 public restroom sites throughout Downtown, effective Sept. 25.
The city’s ongoing efforts to assist county health officials in preventing the further spread of hepatitis A include:
- Implementing new sanitation methods to clean sidewalks and other public rights-of-way in the Downtown area. Sanitation has occurred throughout downtown on six days since Sept. 11. The city will consider additional areas for sanitation in the coming weeks.
- Installing 63 handwashing stations in coordination with the county throughout Downtown and working to add more in other locations, including Hillcrest and beach communities.
- Coordinating with American Medical Response and the Downtown San Diego Partnership to connect 1,278 individuals with free vaccinations at Golden Hall, and hosting county vaccination clinics at several city libraries.
- Providing consistent information and education to community members about hepatitis A and ways to prevent the outbreak’s spread.
Call 211 or go to 211sandiego.org to learn about how to get a free hepatitis A vaccination.