Some critics of San Diego’s response to a deadly outbreak of Hepatitis A among the homeless population are placing partial blame on the recent plastic bag ban.
Local NPR station KPBS reports that in July 2016, the San Diego City Council voted to ban “single-use” plastic bags after environmental activists pushed to eliminate the paper-thin bags, claiming they were an eyesore on city streets as well as a threat to sea turtles and other ocean creatures.
The local bag ban, which was set to go into effect in April 2017, was pre-empted by a similar ban under California’s Proposition 67, which was approved statewide by voters last year and went into effect immediately on November 9th, 2016 — the day after the election.
That coincides with San Diego’s 14% spike in homelessness, brought on in part by a policy change that resulted in a massive reduction in available transitional housing (offered by hotels and motels), as well as by Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s elimination of the large tents used to shelter homeless people throughout the cold winter months.
According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, something as simple as a ready supply of littered plastic bags may have slowed the spread of the outbreak.
“The reason the outbreak has spread so rapidly is because homeless are living in more concentrated areas,” said Dr. Jeffrey Norris, the St. Vincent De Paul medical director who has been managing the charity’s response to the public health threat. “They often have to defecate in their tent, or next to their tent, and that exposes their neighbors on the street. Hygiene becomes incredibly difficulty.”
By “taking away a manageable alternative to defecating outside a bathroom,” the article suggests county health workers have been forced to play catch up and spend more money “handing out thousands of ‘hygiene kits’ that include plastic bags.”
The Tribune notes that critics are also slamming San Diego officials for their slow response to the crisis.