Santa Clara County Deputy Public Health Director Dr. George Han holds a briefing Thursday to report on new outbreaks at homeless shelters and long-term care facilities in the county. (Photo by Jana Kadah/BCN Foundation)

As COVID-19 cases continue to rise at alarming rates in Santa Clara County, some county facilities that have typically been safe from the major transmissions are now experiencing their first outbreak since the start of the pandemic nine months ago.

The latest outbreak is at the Boccardo Reception Center emergency homeless shelter (BRC) that houses more than 100 individuals, of which 56 homeless residents and four staff tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

“It is now more dangerous in our community than at any other point during the pandemic,” Santa Clara County Deputy Public Health Director Dr. George Han said at a briefing Thursday.

The homeless shelter reported 20 cases on Nov. 23, 26 cases on Sunday and 14 cases on Wednesday.

To reduce the risk of transmission the county moved all shelter residents into motel rooms.

“Usually when we start getting positive test results, we will move the people who are positive into a motel,” Han said. “When we went back a second and a third time [to test], we found additional people testing positive … it made us realize that it was pretty widespread and therefore, we needed to take that extra precautionary step to even place those who
tested negative into the motels.”

Right now, the only people at BRC are those who have already completed their quarantine or isolation period.

County officials said they are working with staff from dozens of homeless shelters to ensure masks are worn, residents are socially distanced and other COVID-19 safety protocols are strictly followed.

“The county is also working to increase the number of hotel and motel rooms available so that when shelter residents test positive there will be a space for them to isolate safely,” Han said.

Officials have especially been paying close attention to the homeless shelter at South Hall — one of the largest shelters in the county.

Over the last few weeks, the shelter has had 7 positive COVID-19 cases — six clients and one staffer. On Nov. 18, 2 positive tests were reported, another two positive tests reported on Sunday, and three cases were reported on Wednesday.

“Shelter intakes were immediately suspended, and no new clients were referred to the shelters after the results of the first positive tests were received,” county officials said. “All individuals who tested positive were contacted by the COVID-19 Shelter Hotline staff and placed in isolation hotel rooms for the duration of their isolation period.”

But homeless shelters aren't the only places to have major outbreaks.

On Wednesday, county juvenile facilities reported their first outbreak during the pandemic, with 13 new cases.

And long-term care facilities, which have continued to have COVID-19 transmission, are experiencing some of the largest outbreaks to date.

“Throughout the pandemic there have been fluctuations in the number of outbreaks at nursing homes and other long-term facilities,” Han said. “Right now … it is a significant increase.”

Skilled nursing facility Amberwood Gardens is experiencing the largest outbreak among long-term care facilities, Han said.

As of Wednesday, there were 151 total positive cases, of which 81 cases were residents and 70 were staff.

Another long-term facility in the county also reported 86 total positive cases, 66 of which were residents and 20 among staff as of Wednesday.

“These outbreaks are an unfortunate reminder that increases in community transmission of COVID-19 threaten our most vulnerable communities,” said Han.

The recent outbreaks have public health officials gravely concerned, especially since the county tallied 753 new cases, nine new deaths and 67 new hospitalizations in the last week and hospital ICUs are also almost at full capacity.

Currently hospitals that serve populations in South and East County — the hardest hit areas — have less than five beds in ICU and are 93 percent full. The other hospitals are at 84 percent capacity, Associate Chief Medical Officer for the county Dr. Jennifer Tong said Wednesday.

“The county is devoting extensive resources to controlling these outbreaks, but it is not enough without substantial efforts by every community member,” county officials said in a statement. “Reduce transmission by wearing masks, maintaining social distance, and avoiding contact with people outside their household.”