By Maria Medina

HAYWARD (KPIX) – One of the most vulnerable populations — the homeless — will not be overlooked when it comes to testing for COVID-19 in the city of Hayward.

Hayward Fire Capt. Don Nichelson said teams of firefighters plan to visit homeless encampments where they will test those who are showing symptoms and meet testing requirements.

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On Monday, the city opened a COVID-19 testing site at the Hayward fire station on Huntwood Avenue. The center, which can test 350 people a day, had to turn away people who had no symptoms after hundreds showed up to get tested. The city tightened requirements for testing, including a fever of 100 degrees or more.

But Nichelson said many of the homeless can’t get to the site, and so they plan to get to them instead. The fear is that one person will come down with the virus, which will then spread through encampments.

Hayward, he said, has about 500 unsheltered residents.

“We’re trying to come to them over the next couple of days,” said Nichelson. “It’s bound to happen and we’ve got to catch that as quickly as possible and then isolate that group of people so they don’t spread it within their community.”

He said they’ve already tested a handful of people at encampments in Oakland and Hayward.

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But the effort comes with challenges, including making accommodations to house sick patients and their property they typically carry in shopping carts or bags.

“If you say, ‘Well, you can’t house that here, while you’re staying here,’ they’re not going to want to come to that shelter,” Nichelson said.

Hayward’s firefighters may not be the only ones who will be reaching out to the public. On Friday, Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese announced that he requested the immediate deployment of paramedic and ambulance teams to set up welfare checkpoints at homeless encampments in the county, which has a homeless population count of 8,000.

Santa Clara has secured motel and hotel rooms for the homeless who test positive. In Hayward, if someone in the homeless population tests positive, they will be isolated in the city’s Navigation Center on Depot Road and Whitesell Street.

But Nichelson said an emergency shelter is in the works if there is a surge in patients. Many of the homeless they’ve encountered don’t know there is a current outbreak, he said.

“We need to advise them that ‘A,’ this is going on, you need to get tested if you’re showing symptoms and you to need to self-quarantine,” Nichelson said.

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Hayward firefighters, he added, are working seven days a week, and staying at hotels, then getting tested for the virus before they return home.