Twenty-seven people living among 12 King County homeless shelters have tested positive for COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, as of Tuesday, according to Public Health – Seattle & King County.
And while the number of new cases each day among the general population drops, the county doesn’t think it has reached the peak of the outbreak among the homeless population.
“We know that we have more work ahead of us than we have behind us,” King County Director of Community and Human Services Leo Flor said during a media briefing Wednesday.
Two of the shelters experienced what Public Health termed “clusters.” One is a new shelter space set up by the county at Boeing Field to decrease crowding and prevent the spread of disease within the St. Martin de Porres Shelter in Sodo.
Boeing Field and the Lazarus Center in North Beacon Hill, both run by Catholic Community Services (CCS), had experienced six and 12 positive cases, respectively, Public Health’s TJ Cosgrove said.
“As a result, Lazarus Center’s residents were moved to other CCS shelters or to shelter space at Boeing Field, “where we had a significant amount of space to spread folks who were symptomatic,” Cosgrove said. Flo Beaumon, associate director of Catholic Community Services King County, said no symptomatic people were moved from Lazarus Day Center to Boeing Field, but Cosgrove said some symptomatic people were indeed “quarantining in place” at Boeing Field and that “infection controls” were in place to protect them from spreading the virus, although he couldn’t confirm exactly what they were.
Some Seattle shelter providers reported problems last month with getting their residents into the county isolation and quarantine units, even when referred by medical staff. Meanwhile, some jurisdictions with large homeless populations have begun moving people into individual hotel units to prevent the spread of disease in congregate shelter settings. King County has provided 60 motel vouchers to people considered vulnerable to infection, Flor said, and plans on moving as many as 400 people out of shelters starting this week.
The county did not provide information Wednesday on how many people had already accessed those rooms.
The county has also set up three sites for people who tested positive for COVID-19 or are awaiting test results and are unable to access or isolate in a home. Forty-nine people occupied these units as of Tuesday night, the highest number since the beginning of the pandemic, Flor said.
Staffing shortages, however, have limited the county’s response, he added.