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Massive effort to get Los Angeles homeless into hotels

A homeless person sits on a wheelchair under rainy weather on Sunset Blvd., in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles Monday, April 6, 2020. One population is particularly vulnerable to contracting and spreading the coronavirus: the homeless. Officials have vowed repeatedly to get them indoors, but testing shortages and bureaucratic wrangling are making it difficult. Relatively few of California's 150,000 homeless population have been moved into individual quarters. It's unclear how many even have the highly contagious virus. It's a problem playing out nationwide and it's unclear how many may even have coronavirus. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
A homeless person sits on a wheelchair under rainy weather on Sunset Blvd., in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles Monday, April 6, 2020. One population is particularly vulnerable to contracting and spreading the coronavirus: the homeless. Officials have vowed repeatedly to get them indoors, but testing shortages and bureaucratic wrangling are making it difficult. Relatively few of California's 150,000 homeless population have been moved into individual quarters. It's unclear how many even have the highly contagious virus. It's a problem playing out nationwide and it's unclear how many may even have coronavirus. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

LOS ANGELES – To curb the coronavirus spread, Los Angeles has embarked on a massive effort to bring thousands of homeless people off the streets and into hotels to protect them and others from infection.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced last week that money from the federal government would help pay for at least 15,000 hotel rooms during the pandemic. But Los Angeles County, with the state's largest concentration of homeless people at some 60,000, has set its own goal of 15,000 rooms.

“We're going big in LA,” said Heidi Marston, interim director of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. “We based our goal on what the need is here."

Marston planned to outline the effort on Wednesday during the daily coronavirus briefing by county health officials.

Coronavirus is spread by coughs and sneezes. Most infected people have mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and other respiratory problems that can be fatal.

The homeless population is particularly at risk. Many transients already have health problems such as heart disease or diabetes, and live in conditions that do not permit frequent hand washing and social distancing.

The hotel rooms set aside under the state's Project Roomkey are reserved for the most vulnerable of the county's homeless population, Marston said. These include people over 65 and those with underlying health conditions who don't have symptoms but are at high risk for hospitalization if they contract the virus.

The first hotel opened Friday in Los Angeles. A total of 1,340 beds at 15 sites across the county are expected to be ready by the end of this week. Thousands more have been identified as potential locations.