Inside the Alpha project bridge shelter in Barrio Logan / Photo by Megan Wood

County health officials are reducing the required isolation time for people staying at county-supported hotels to try to free up rooms for newly positive cases, following changing federal guidelines and a spike in COVID-19 cases.

That means San Diego homeless people can return to overcrowded shelters after just five days of isolation. And the conflicts with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines maintain a 10-day isolation period for people staying in shelters before returning after contracting the virus. Recent changes to the CDC’s isolation guidelines did not affect emergency shelters.

Animal shelters in San Diego have reported more than 120 cases in the past three weeks, and operators have relied on hotel rooms to provide isolation. For now, two major urban accommodation providers are committed to adhering to the 10-day isolation period, even if it means they must facilitate this continued isolation themselves.

For nearly two years, the county provided hotel rooms for people who have tested positive or been exposed to COVID-19 and do not have a safe place to isolate. Dozens of San Diego homeless people who contracted COVID-19 while staying in overcrowded shelters have since moved into county-funded rooms for at least 10 days. City shelters were also hit several large eruptions This affects a particularly vulnerable population, among which many have been reluctant to get vaccinated. The hospitalization rate for San Diego homeless people who contracted COVID has also been high much higher than the general population.

Hotel rooms weren’t always immediately available when homeless service providers tried to accommodate shelter residents, but the situation worsened late last month when 50 people staying at city homeless shelters tested positive. there was no room in county hotels, forcing two providers to isolate shelter residents in makeshift outdoor marquees for days.

The county recently added 40 additional rooms in response to an increase in cases linked to the more transmissible Omicron variant, but David Estrella, chief housing and community development, announced at Tuesday’s board meeting that the county takes another step to ensure rooms are available.

“New guidance from the CDC and the California Department of Health and Human Services has been released allowing for shortened isolation times from 10 days to five days for people who are asymptomatic and test negative for COVID-19 on the fifth day of isolation,” Estrella told supervisors. “This change will allow rooms for these newly diagnosed individuals to become available sooner.”

A county spokeswoman confirmed Wednesday that people who have previously been in shelters who test negative and have no COVID-19 symptoms will return to those shelters. She noted that many who test positive don’t move to hotel rooms immediately – meaning they have more time to isolate themselves – and that the likelihood of COVID-19 transmission is “significantly reduced after five days”.

“With some guests testing negative and no symptoms after five to nine days – whether they are from an animal shelter, private household or healthcare facility – it has been determined that those waiting for a room who are known to be positive should be prioritized,” spokeswoman Sarah Sweeney wrote in an email.

The newly released CDC guidelines actually allow asymptomatic people who test positive to leave isolation after five days, but the agency hasn’t updated a longtime recommendation that shelter residents wait 10 days.

dr Margot Kushel, who directs UC San Francisco’s Center for Vulnerable Populations and has made contributions as the state drafted guidelines to protect the homeless population during the pandemic, said the county’s policy change is not ideal.

Still, she said, her decision to require a negative COVID-19 test before people staying in hotels are released from isolation seems to reflect an attempted balancing act at a time of scarce resources.

“I think it’s certainly imperfect, unquestionably outside of current CDC recommendations, but it seems they’re at least trying to thoughtfully mitigate that risk,” Kushel said.

Two major city accommodation providers say they plan to stick to the 10-day isolation phase for now — even if that means temporarily isolating people using their own resources after they leave county hotels.

The Crowne Plaza San Diego Mission Valley is among San Diego County hotels accommodating those who need to isolate people during the coronavirus pandemic. / Photo by Lisa Halverstadt

dr Father Joe’s Villages chief medical officer Jeffrey Norris told the Voice of San Diego that the agency, which has seen more than 70 COVID-19 cases among residents since late December, plans to try to recruit residents of shelters that are made out move out of the county’s hotel rooms, maintaining isolation until the 10-day period expires. They will also isolate those staying on their premises for 10 days.

“At this time, whenever possible, Father Joe’s villages will maintain 10-day isolation as an additional precaution and in accordance with CDC guidelines,” Norris wrote in an email. “If a neighbor leaves a hotel room, we will isolate them in the tent on our campus for the remainder of their 10-day isolation period.”

The Alpha Project, which has seen about 50 COVID-19 cases in recent weeks, plans to keep the 10-day limit for residents for similar reasons.

“We like the 10-day period, and as far as we can control, we’re going to stick with it,” said Bob McElroy, CEO of the Alpha Project.

Housing Commission spokesman Scott Marshall told VOSD that for now, the county’s guidance only applies to people moving into hotel rooms and that the county has instructed city housing providers who are self-isolating people to keep them as of the CDC recommended keeping isolated for at least 10 days.

The city has reported fewer COVID-19 cases in shelters so far this week, and more people who have tested positive have moved to county hotels.

On Thursday, city officials reported that 22 people staying at Father Joe’s Golden Hall animal shelter have tested positive, while two residents at Alpha Projects have tested 17 positiveth Street and Kaiseralleen protection. The city is still awaiting some test results. City shelters had each reported about 50 cases in the past two weeks.

Meanwhile, Sweeney said late Wednesday the county had moved about four dozen people to hotels since last Friday — up from 17 late last week.