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COVID Outbreaks Among Homeless Nosedive as Santa Monica Revs Up for Census
 

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By Jorge Casuso

February 22, 2022 -- As Santa Monica braces for a cold night to count the homeless, LA County Health officials report a precipitous drop in coronavirus outbreaks and deaths among that population.

Temperatures are forecast to dip into the low forties late Wednesday night and early Thursday morning, when teams of volunteers will comb the City's streets between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m.

The count comes as County Health officials announced Friday that the "mortality among people experiencing homelessness decreased by more than four-fold this winter surge compared to the previous winter surge."

During last winter's deadly wave -- which prompted the cancellation of the annual homeless count -- the death rate among homeless individuals infected with COVID between October 31, 2020 and February 16, 2021 was 237 deaths per 100,000.

That compares with 52 deaths per 100,000 among those infected with the virus between December 2, 2021 to February 13, 2022, although that number can rise as deaths are still being reported.

Despite the drop, the death rate among homeless individuals during the latest surge is double that of the general population, "underscoring the much higher risk of death for people experiencing homelessness," County officials said.

While deaths dropped precipitously from last winter's record highs, the number of those infected with the much more contagious, though far less fatal, Omicron variant more than doubled.

During this winter's surge, the peak seven-day average daily case rate among homeless individuals was 378 new cases per 100,000, up from 162 new cases per 100,000 last winter.

"The elevated case numbers have resulted in very high numbers of outbreaks investigated by Public Health," County officials said.

Between December 2, 2021 and February 13, 2022, Public Health initiated 379 outbreak investigations at institutions and facilities where homeless individuals lived and sought services, officials said. Those number have "started to steeply decline."

For the week ending February 6, Public Health initiated five new outbreak investigations, down from a high of 94 outbreak investigations initiated during the week ending January 2.

The rapid spread of Omicron during this year's holiday season prompted County officials to postpone the homeless count scheduled for January 26 in Santa Monica ("Homeless Census Count Postponed," January 18, 2022).

In its announcement, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) cited "protecting the health and safety of its volunteers, staff, and people experiencing homelessness as the reason for the delay."

After LA County -- and Santa Monica -- shattered coronavirus case records in early January, cases have been steadily dropping as the Omicron wave recedes.

There were 132 coronavirus cases reported in Santa Monica last week, the fewest since 119 were confirmed in the week ending December 12, shortly before the Omicron variant began rapidly spreading.

Last week was the sixth week in a row local cases declined after hitting a record 1,902 weekly cases in early January, according to an analysis of County data.

Despite the continuing drop in cases, the number of virus-related deaths -- which typically take two weeks to report -- continued to rise in the beach city, with five reported last week.

That brings the number of deaths over the past five weeks to 18, the most since the same number was reported during a 12-day stretch in late March and early April last year.

Special COVID protocols will be in place from Wednesday night's Homeless Count, which will be held at Santa Monica Beach Lot 4 South "to allow deployment to be done completely in your car," City officials said.

Each "pre-formed" team of volunteers must arrive in one car at 11 p.m., officials said. They will then be "directed to a drive-through check-in where all team members will be asked for vaccine verification (and) completed waivers."

The teams will then be assigned to a Count area and receive Count materials.

As they have in the past, teams of volunteers will comb every street in Santa Monica -- a total of 226 linear miles -- to tally homeless individuals sleeping outdoors, as well as in cars, RVs and tents.

Homeless persons in shelters, jails and hospitals are also counted at each facility, according to City officials.


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