ONLY ON ABC7NEWS.COM: A look inside site of San Francisco's largest coronavirus outbreak

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ByKate Larsen KGO logo
Thursday, April 23, 2020
EXCLUSIVE: A look inside site of SF's largest COVID-19 outbreak
Less than two weeks after a massive outbreak at San Francisco's largest homeless shelter, the facility is inviting guests back inside.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Less than two weeks after a massive outbreak at San Francisco's largest homeless shelter, the facility is inviting guests back inside.

ABC7 news reporter, Kate Larsen, spoke to a group of SVDP staff via Zoom Wednesday night, who cheered and waved with excitement to be back at work together.

Kate Larsen: "How many of you all were at the shelter two weeks ago during the outbreak?"

SVDP staff: "All of us, all of us, all of us!"

RELATED: 70 people test positive for COVID-19 at San Francisco's largest homeless shelter

Lessy Benedith is the director of homeless services for Saint Vincent De Paul Society. She oversees Multi Service Center South at 5th and Bryant in San Francisco - the city's largest shelter.

"The virus quickly took over our facility and overwhelmed us."

Benedith took video before the outbreak started of the shelter's 340 beds, placed about two feet apart.

The first COVID-19 case was identified, when a client registered a high fever at a door check.

There were about 150 people at MSC at the time.

Benedith says ultimately, 95 homeless guests and 10 staff members tested positive.

"Many of the guests and staff who tested positive were not experiencing any symptoms whatsoever, and that was a shock to us."

RELATED: San Francisco's battle to house the homeless continues amid pandemic

Crews in hazmat suits started deep cleaning the facility, while the City began the process of moving the guests into hotels for isolation.

The shelter meanwhile, was re-organized to comply with 6-foot social distancing standards.

After the outbreak, the Department of Public Health said they were going to convert MSC South to a recovery center staffed by doctors and nurses. Benedith says that model changed, and on Tuesday, SVDP staff opened the shelter back up to homeless people who have recovered from COVID-19.

"I was going out every day to the park and to the store and never knew I was sick."

Timothy Isaiah is one of 17 single homeless men to return to MSC South this week after ten days at a city-sponsored hotel. He was staying at the shelter during the outbreak and tested positive for the virus.

"I never showed any symptoms," explained Isaiah, who is grateful to be back at MSC South. "I feel safe by coming back here, I'm glad to come back here because they're like my family. I've been in and out of here for a long time."

Benedith says the staff is re-energized and ready to welcome back guests. Eleven more recovering COVID-19 patients are expected Thursday.

The shelter's new reduced capacity is 110 beds.

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