More than 200 people in shelters test positive for COVID-19

Out of 700 tested, some 28.5% are positive

In an effort led by Boston Healthcare for the Homeless, the City reported on Thursday afternoon of a growing number of positive COVID-19 tests in the homeless population using the Boston shelter system.

The City released figures on Thursday within a series of announcements about new space secured for quarantine and isolation of the homeless population, of first responders and of veterans.

To date, the City reported that 201 people tested positive out of 704 total individuals tested, which is a positive rate of 28.5 percent – almost 10 percent higher than the latest published state average, which was 19.2 percent (87,511 total tests) on April 8. 

“Screenings led by Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program have been happening at shelter sites to identify guests with symptoms or exposure to COVID-19,” read a release. “If needed, guests are referred for observation and support while awaiting test results and/or needing isolation. Collectively, the partners have tested approximately 704 individuals and have identified 201 positive COVID-19 cases.”

Boston Health Care for the Homeless, the City’s shelter system, Boston Medical Center, Pine Street Inn, the Office of Recovery Services and other partners have been carefully monitoring the population in shelters and on the streets. Mostly, they have done extensive screening for symptoms, and even rounding up those on the Mass/Cass corridor who appear to have symptoms and need testing.

“Street outreach teams are equipped with supplies such as hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes and gloves, and are escorting individuals in need of care to medical sites,” read the release.

Initially, the numbers were very low in the shelters and on the streets, with no cases reported initially, and then a few two weeks ago. Since that time, more testing has occurred and more positives have been identified.

The City has identified extra space and beds all over the city to relieve crowded conditions of the healthy in existing shelters, and to provide areas for isolation and quarantine for people testing positive or awaiting results.

To that end, Mayor Martin Walsh recently announced the addition of 172 new beds at a Suffolk University dormitory, 75 new beds at 1515 Commonwealth Ave. in Brighton, and 55 new beds in the South End near City shelters. 

There is also the Newton Pavilion in the South End, which is currently being stood up for use, and the South Boston Convention Center, which is in the process of being built out.

The Newton Pavilion will have a capacity of 250 beds for medical care and the South Boston Convention Center Medical Center will have 1,000 total beds for patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 (500 beds dedicated to patients struggling with homelessness and the remaining 500 for other patients); six acute care suites; a physical therapy suite; 52 nurses stations and 48 bathroom facilities.

“We’re entering the most crucial point in the outbreak and the beginning of a surge in cases that will be very difficult for our city,” said Mayor Martin Walsh on Thursday. “That’s why we are doing everything we can to be prepared, and increasing our medical and care capacity for vulnerable populations and hospitals. Today, we’re ramping up resources for our first responders and frontline workers to make sure they have the support they need as they care for our city.”

To help frontline workers at Pine Street Inn, Boston University said Thursday it would be providing 75 rooms to Pine Street Inn’s shelter staff who have been working on the front lines of the COVID-19 public health emergency caring for people experiencing homelessness at their shelter facilities.

“We’re pleased to provide space to the Pine Street Inn to support their critical work during these unprecedented times for our city and the nation,” said Boston University President Robert A. Brown. “I’m grateful to the Boston University facilities teams that worked tirelessly to ready the space. We will continue to work closely with the City to be helpful where we can be.”

•HOUSING SITES FOR COVID-19 POSITIVE FIRST RESPONDERS

The City on Thursday afternoon, April 9, also announced recovery accommodations for Boston Police, Boston Fire and Boston EMS workers that have had a positive COVID-19 test or may have been exposed to a co-worker who is positive. The accommodations are meant for first responders who may not have the space at their homes to self-isolate.

The hotel in Brighton, Hotel Boston, has a capacity of 74 single-occupancy rooms with a private bathroom and kitchenette. The setup of the hotel is ideal for self-isolation because all rooms have ground-level access and no common areas, the City said.

Additionally, Northeastern University is providing one of its dormitories with single-occupancy rooms to Boston’s first responders who live with someone who might be at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19, such as older adults and people who have serious underlying medical conditions. Northeastern will provide 135 rooms with beds, private bathrooms and kitchenettes at their West Village dormitory, which is located in Mission Hill on Parker and Ruggles Streets.

“In times of crisis, we must join together as one community and offer each other support and assistance,” said Northeastern University President Joseph E. Aoun. “We are honored to provide safe space for first responders, and we stand ready to offer additional help to the state and the city as needed. I applaud Mayor Walsh for his leadership through this difficult time.”

Mayor Walsh recently announced the City of Boston started testing Boston’s first responders for COVID-19 at Suffolk Downs in East Boston. The operation of this testing facility is led by the Boston Public Health Commission and the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center. First responders are screened to see if they meet the state criteria for testing.

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