LOS ANGELES - The Union Rescue Mission on Skid Row is seeing a rash of coronavirus cases after one of its staffers passed away from COVID-19, and now the shelter will decrease its capacity by 50 percent.
Reverend Andy Bales, the President and CEO of Union Rescue Mission, said there are six confirmed cases, including Gerald Shiroma, the beloved full-time driver who passed.
"Unfortunately we have six total cases so far at Union Rescue Mission. We had the original case with Gerald. He checked into the hospital, went to ICU, struggled in ICU for about 11 days before passing away, which was heartbreaking and really a spear to our souls," said Bales.
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Bales said several precautions were put in place following Shiroma's death.
"When Gerald went in the hospital, it really inspired us to step up our wearing of masks and wearing gloves and doing everything we could do," said Bales.
However, five additional guests in the facility tested positive, and now there's a new plan in place, following guidance from the Los Angeles Department of Health Services.
"[The plan is] to take our most vulnerable, most frail and elderly off-site to more private lodging with some nursing care and get them out of harm's way," said Bales.
Bales said the facility will move 100 guests off-site over the next few days. On Wednesday, 19 men were transported to the Isolation/Quarantine site in Bell Gardens. Thursday, 30 of the facility's high-risk men will also be moved to a quarantine site.
"We will then be moving out 50 or more of our high-risk men who are either 65 years and older or who have underlying health issues to Isolation/Quarantine sites or Tier 1 LASHA hotels. We will be moving 60 more of our 2nd-floor men to our gym. There will be air mattresses 6 feet apart. They will be able to use completely isolated restrooms and showers within the gym. This will leave 40 men in our 2nd-floor dorm and insure social distancing for the next 14 days," said Bales.
Bales said the shelter does not way to turn anyone away though.
"We're looking for an off-site place where we can meet new guests who show up at Union Rescue Mission and work with the other agencies to find them a place to go because we never want to turn away anyone. They won't be sent out to the streets. They are going to go to more private lodging, to better facilities, to more safe facilities arranged just for them," said Bales.
The shelter will also step up cleaning and sanitation efforts to better protect staff and guests.