San Diego

Amid Hepatitis A Outbreak, City to Keep Some Balboa Park Bathrooms Open 24/7

Since the outbreak, 16 people have died and hundreds have been infected, making it the worst outbreak to hit San Diego in decades

Fourteen standalone bathrooms across San Diego's iconic Balboa Park will stay open 24 hours in a pilot program meant to combat the city's growing Hepatitis A outbreak.

Since the outbreak, 16 people have died and hundreds have been infected, making it the worst outbreak to hit San Diego in decades. The County Board of Supervisors declared the outbreak a public health emergency.

One of the ways to prevent the spread of the highly contagious virus is by washing hands more often and taking sanitary measures. Many of those affected are homeless San Diegans; however, the county estimates 30 percent of those infected in the Hepatitis A outbreak are not homeless or drug users.

But up until Tuesday, few public bathrooms were open around-the-clock. 

The 30-day pilot program is one way to help homeless San Diegans keep clean during the outbreak. 

Five of those 14 bathrooms will be near Morley Field on the east side of Balboa Park, according to City officials. However, the city has not clarified what other bathrooms will remain open 24 hours.

Depending on the results of the program, the city will determine their next steps moving forward. 

The city has not specified if there will be added security for those bathrooms. 

The outbreak comes at a time when Balboa Park board members are working to attract more pedestrians and allow more public access to the park through the Plaza de Panama Project, which restricts access for cars in certain areas of Balboa to make it safer for walkers and bikers. 

Organizers with the project said it is still moving forward at this time, despite the outbreak. They will start the project in 2018 and hope to have it completed in 22 to 24 months. 

City officials have also begun power washing parts of Downtown San Diego in an effort to combat the outbreak. On Monday, streets in Downtown's East Village were sprayed.

The bleach solution will be used on areas predominantly occupied by homeless San Diegans, including Market and 16th Street down through Commercial. It is unclear how often officials will power wash the streets.

In addition to the power washing, city and county officials deployed 40 hand washing stations around the county. Three dozen hand washing stations have already been set up in areas where homeless people congregate.

The city is also exploring other options to increase the number of restrooms in the downtown area.

Hepatitis A is a serious disease that attacks the liver and can prove fatal. Vaccines are available at no charge to uninsured individuals at any of the county's public health centers.

Since the outbreak, county health officers have issued new vaccine recommendations.

Since March, about 19,000 people have been vaccinated. The county has also vaccinated more than 7,000 people at risk, which includes homeless San Diegans and those who work with the homeless.

Doctors are now recommending anyone who works or lives downtown to get vaccinated too. That means anyone who works or lives near the infected areas is at risk.

The San Diego Central Library will host a free Hepatitis A vaccination clinic on September 19 from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.

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