Advocates say delays in coronavirus testing have put SRO residents, who share bathrooms and kitchen facilities, at risk of outbreaks. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

SRO COVID testing, notification requirements set to be strengthened

Despite pressure from the Department of Public Health to lift an emergency ordinance requiring a rapid response to coronavirus diagnoses in single room occupancy residents, supervisors on Monday moved to strengthen it instead.

The emergency ordinance issued in May, which expired at the end of July, requires outreach to SRO residents in a building within 48 hours of someone in their building testing positive.

Health officials argued that it was an ineffective use of resources and asked that the requirement be lifted so that tests could be administered at their discretion, starting with close contacts.

San Francisco considers two cases in two different households within 14 days an outbreak, while the California Department of Public Health considers three cases in three households within 14 days an outbreak, said Dr. Stephanie Cohen of DPH to supervisors.

“We are not asking to water down the legislation or relax rules for SROs,” Cohen said. “If we thought it would be effective, we would be all for it.”

The order unanimously backed by the Land Use and Transportation Committee on Monday would now not only renew the emergency ordinance but also require notice to be posted in SRO buildings where a tenant tested positive, with full information for other tenants.

“This is really trying to hold the highest standard for our most vulnerable populations,” said Supervisor Aaron Peskin. “It’s a short-term admonition in an increasingly long pandemic. I hope this becomes a permanent ordinance.”

SRO advocates say the order hasn’t always been properly followed. In the case of an unidentified Chinatown SRO, they alleged DPH did not reach out to tenants for eight days. By the time testing was conducted, four tenants had already tested positive and another six of 20 tested by the department were found to be positive.

Advocates also felt DPH wasn’t giving tenants robust enough information about testing and hotel room options, and said they were hard to reach for follow up questions.

Peskin opted to add changes that require DPH to post a notice in common areas within 12 hours of confirming that a tenant in that building tested positive with coronavirus. The notice would tell tenants about their rights to access testing, an isolation hotel room, and face coverings with a hotline to obtain the resources.

DPH would also be required to include information about cases in SROs by zip code to The City’s data tracker. The SRO tracker was just added on Friday, showing 502 cases among SRO residents across 119 buildings, which have resulted in four deaths as of Monday.

“It makes the ordinance stronger,” said Gen Fujioka, general counsel and senior analyst at Chinatown Community Development Center. “I think that addresses a number of our concerns.”

Supervisors Dean Preston and Ahsha Safai agreed that the timing was wrong to scale back testing responses at SROs.

“We would want to err on the side of extreme caution,” Safai said. “The risk is this massive amount of people in these buildings living in very close settings. In the end, if we don’t have an outbreak, good, we’ve put the resources in the right place.”

The emergency legislation reenactment will go before the full board on Tuesday.

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