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 as of Tuesday 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 246 people tested positive out of 940 total individuals tested since March 12, which is a positive rate of 26.1 percent – which was slightly higher than the latest published state average, which was 22.6 percent on April 14.
While the numbers were higher than anyone would want – one is too many, City officials said – they do believe the quick response has helped keep positive cases a bay.
“We know there are higher rates amongst people living in close proximity to one another,” said Sheila Dillon, director of the Department of Neighborhood Development and chief of housing. “One is too many for us, but I am pleased we have been able to work with non-profit partners the way we have. Even though the number is higher than anyone wants, I do think the response is good and thoughtful and we’re taking care of people in need.”
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 a news release from the mayor.
Jenn Tracy, of the office of Recovery Services, said they have been working on trying to keep people from congregating.
“We are working on social distancing,” she said. “There are some spots of congregation we’re targeting to make sure that people do spread out. Like we did at the shelters, we’re trying to do that on the streets. We’re working diligently on that and adding signage.”
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. Dillon said when they began their work on the COVID-19 response, and realized they needed to marshal resources for the homeless population, Mayor Walsh simply picked up the phone and started calling all of the universities and institutions all over the city. In the end, many did step up and it has resulted in the use of many facilities.
There is also the Newton Pavilion in the South End, which is currently up and running, and the South Boston Convention Center, which is in the process of being built out.
The Newton Pavilion has 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.”
• 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.