Amid an outbreak across San Diego County that health officials say has led to 16 deaths and almost 300 hospitalizations, workers were power-washing areas in downtown San Diego earlier this week with water laced with chlorine and bleach, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.
"By disinfecting our sidewalks and making additional public restrooms available 24/7, we're following the direction of County health officials to address the unsanitary conditions that have helped fuel this outbreak", said Craig Gustafson, senior director of communications for San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer. The dire situation is being attributed to a lack of access to restrooms or showers for San Diego's homeless population.
As of Monday, workers dressed in protective white gear and red hard hats were seen outside spraying the sidewalks with a bleach-based liquid in hopes of killing the virus that lives in human feces.
In January's annual tally of the area's transient population, 5,619 homeless individuals were counted in the city of San Diego, a 10.3 percent increase from past year.
The county gave the city five business days to respond with a plan for remedying what it called a "fecally contaminated environment" downtown. The City is also exploring adding more bridge shelters in the future at other locations.
Mike Saag, a professor of medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham focused on infectious diseases, tells NPR that he finds San Diego's street washing approach reasonable for stemming the spread of Hepatitis A: "If there's a sanitation problem, then the thing to do is clean up the area, and bleach is probably the best disinfectant that we have for this type of viral infections". According to the officials, this will help those who live in the streets, which are the most affected population, to stop getting infected with Hepatitis.
Around 40 hand-washing stations have been set up around the city - concentrated in areas where the homeless congregate. "We're taking swift action to eradicate this virus from our streets and keep our most vulnerable residents safe". Of those, 3,231 were living on the streets. More than half (65%) are homeless, illicit drug users, or both. 7,000 of them were at high risk - including homeless San Diegans and people who work with them.
The move by the city to start sanitizing the streets came after San Diego County wrote a letter to the city Thursday.