Health and Human Services Chief of Staff Kathleen Grady says there were more than 320 confirmed cases of hep A in the most recent survey, but they're no longer seeing exponential growth. She credits an aggressive vaccination campaign for that and is hopeful that the two newly installed mobile public restrooms along Kensington Avenue corridor add another layer of safety.
"We're hopeful that we're getting a hold on it," Grady said.
The public restroom pilot program is funded by the city and run by staff members and volunteers at Prevention Point, a Kensington community group.
"While the bathroom monitors are monitoring the bathroom, they're learning people's names, and they're able to engage them beyond just the use of a public restroom. So they're referring people to needed services. They're able to tell people where they can go for hepatitis A vaccines."
One curbside restroom pod is located right outside the organization's headquarters at Kensington Avenue and Monmouth Street, and another is located a couple of blocks away on the avenue. They're open every day from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., and there has been no shortage of users. The city is considering leaving them open until midnight and adding a third location.
Hartnett says the hep A outbreak has been fueled in part by a severe shortage of public restrooms. She looks at the units as sanitary sanctuaries for those most at risk: people addicted to opioids, and people who are homeless.
"So hepatitis A is spread through sanitation isssues like feces, unwashed hands. So inability to use public restrooms is a big thing for people here in Kensington," Hartnett said. "So having public restrooms is just one tool in a toolbox of many needed to fight this outbreak."
Steve Silbert is a bathroom monitor.