First coronavirus case found in NYC homeless shelter

A resident in one of the city’s homeless shelters was hospitalized after testing positive for the coronavirus — the first confirmed case of the disease in the city’s crowded shelter system.

The woman’s diagnosis forced the Department of Homeless Services to quarantine eight roommates in a separate location, but not to shut down the shelter completely.

The city’s homeless services infrastructure “is always prepared to connect clients to any medical services they may need for any reason, including as relates to COVID-19,” said Isaac McGinn, a Homeless Services spokesman.

The homeless woman tested positive while staying at the Casa de Cariño women’s shelter in the Bronx, according to one source familiar with the situation. Casa de Cariño did not return calls.

McGinn would not comment on the location. The room and the entire shelter have been cleaned, city officials said. The shelter is now monitoring residents and workers who may have been exposed.

After the positive test result, the eight other affected women will remain in quarantine for 14 days. If they show symptoms, they will be connected with the city’s Health + Hospitals system to be tested, officials said.

The positive test result comes as advocates are demanding more detailed guidance from the city on how to handle the COVID-19 outbreak in confined and cramped settings like shelters.

Jennifer March, executive director of the Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York, said there has been scant details from the city on how to best quarantine people in densely populated settings like group homes.

“We want the direction to be more timely and more specific,” she said.

Homeless Services United head Catherine Trapani said it is still unclear how homeless kids will do school work in situations where they do not have Wi-Fi access. The Department of Homeless Services also has not given a clear picture of how many isolation beds are available for homeless people diagnosed with COVID-19. Estimates she’s heard have ranged from 20 to 200.

“What’s keeping me up at night is we don’t have nearly enough isolation capacity to accommodate people to stop the spread within the shelter system,” she said. “I can’t imagine a world where 200 is enough.”

McGinn said there are 100 rooms now available with “many more units coming on.”

Shelter dorms that house single adults tend to have eight to 12 beds per room. At those dorms the city is examining whether it should extend and stagger meal times, city officials said.

Right now, there are no confirmed cases of coronavirus among the city’s unsheltered homeless population, officials said.

Homeless outreach workers have conducted “nearly 4,000 engagements” with homeless people, they said. Of those, outreach workers made six referrals to care, all of them voluntary.

McGinn did not respond when asked what would prompt involuntary referrals for care.

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