Union Rescue Mission on Skid Row now reporting zero cases of COVID-19

The Union Rescue Mission on Skid Row went from 100 positive COVID-19 cases to zero, according to the CEO.

Andy Bales, President/CEO of Union Rescue Mission, said it has been a difficult "battle" against COVID-19 at the shelter. 

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"We saw 100 positive cases. 75 were no symptoms whatsoever which made it very hard to catch. This last round of the battle, we had all negatives and absolutely no positive tests after testing 248 people under our roof," said Bales.  

Bales said the mission lost two people to COVID-19. Gerald Shiroma, a full-time driver at the mission, passed away along with an elderly guest. The guest was moved to private lodging, but was hospitalized April 16, and passed April 24.  

"That [losing two people] hits harder than anything. It's been the battle to save the lives of our guests and the battle to save our own lives in the battle of our lives. It has been the toughest eight weeks I've ever experienced in my 61 years," said Bales. 

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The mission implemented new policies to stop the spread of the virus, starting by reducing the number of guests from 1,000 to under 300 people. 

"[We also started] sanitizing with a fogger that kills viruses, and wearing our masks, keeping our distance, washing hands. It was so difficult because habits die hard, right, and getting people of all types to just follow new rules," said Bales.  

Bales said staff continues to remind guests to wear their masks properly and distance to keep everyone safe. 

"Our folks are so devastated [by homelessness] that learning new things is very difficult," said Bales. 

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Though there are no positive cases at the mission, the homeless community is still heavily impacted by COVID-19. 

"It has now hit in the missions around us and it has hit on the streets harder than ever," said Bales. 

Bales said the mission received a lot of blame in the early stages as cases were skyrocketing.  

"We kept our eyes on the task at hand and we didn't bother with the blame game and that's how we made it through this," said Bales.  

The Union Rescue Mission will start welcoming more guests on Monday, but the number of guests will only be about 550-600. 

"In this new world, we will have a different capacity and we're doing everything we can to stay safe, keep our people safe," said Bales.

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The mission will have six different "zones" for people. 

"We need to have a landing station for the post-positive people who have already had COVID-19 and have been through the quarantine and then we need a place where negative people coming in can quarantine," said Bales. 

The groups will also be separated by families, men and women. 

"We're happy to welcome people back, but we're gonna have to adjust to this new world and continue to wear masks, wash our hands, and keep our distance," said Bales. 

There will still be restrictions at the mission too. 

"This is only the first round. It will likely make a comeback. Even with better news coming, it's still a nightmare," said Bales.

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