Homeless among the most vulnerable to coronavirus, experts say

Homeless communities from coast to coast are at a greater risk of being infected with the coronavirus than the general population, experts say.

Almost 200,000 people are counted as homeless in the United States, and although health officials have yet to find any evidence of coronavirus among them, the population is considered extremely vulnerable and has suffered in the past from other disease outbreaks.

A White House report says conditions among the homeless are deteriorating in a number of states, including in Washington, California and Oregon, where rising housing costs have caused serious income inequality.

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In this Tuesday, March 3, 2020 photo, homeless people crowd a sidewalk in downtown Salem, Ore., where they have set up a makeshift camp. Experts say that the homeless, who often have health and substance-abuse problems, are exposed to the elements and do not have easy access to hygiene, are more vulnerable to the coronavirus. Some cities are making provisions so the homeless who contract the virus have a place to recover without spreading the infection further. (AP Photo/Andrew Selsky)

In this Tuesday, March 3, 2020 photo, homeless people crowd a sidewalk in downtown Salem, Ore., where they have set up a makeshift camp. Experts say that the homeless, who often have health and substance-abuse problems, are exposed to the elements and do not have easy access to hygiene, are more vulnerable to the coronavirus. Some cities are making provisions so the homeless who contract the virus have a place to recover without spreading the infection further. (AP Photo/Andrew Selsky)

Officials in King County, Wash., the location of the first coronavirus-related deaths, have bought a motel and installed a dozen modular units where infected homeless people can recover.

"They are double risk. One is a risk to themselves, the other is a risk to society,” Chunhuei Chi, director of the Center for Global Health at Oregon State University in Corvallis, told The Associated Press.

“This should be treated as an emergency policy, not as a permanent solution to homelessness, but more of framing it as a solution for containing the spread,” Chi said.

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At a makeshift homeless camp on a downtown Salem, Ore., sidewalk, city officials put up hand-washing stations.

“If they get this particular virus, there's a high degree of probability it's going to impact them more severely than it does the general population, with a higher mortality,” said Jimmy Jones, executive director of the agency Community Action.

Los Angeles County's health department sent teams to over 300 homeless facilities to make sure people were "washing their hands and not sharing food or utensils," according to department director Barbara Ferrer, who said it's almost "impossible" for them to avoid an outbreak with such bleak living conditions.

San Francisco city officials postponed an event Thursday serving 1,000 homeless people "because they are older as a group and typically have multiple chronic medical conditions."

Jason Rantz, a Seattle radio host, said health officials need to make homeless communities a priority in containing the coronavirus.

"They're jumping on buses because they can ride for healt free, they're going to public restrooms, they're going into public libraries and there's a possibility that they're spreading it at a higher than normal rate because they're not in the system, because they're not being quarantined, because they're not being checked with any regularlity," Rantz said Monday on "Tucker Carlson Tonight."

"I think that that's a problem."

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There are currently at least 253 confirmed cases across the nation with 13 deaths in Washington state, two in Florida, and one in California.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.