JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — A cluster of coronavirus cases among the homeless population in Alaska’s capital city has increased to include 31 people, officials said.
Juneau city officials responded by closing the downtown public library to indoor service, KTOO Public Media reported Tuesday.
The library, one of the primary locations where people experiencing homelessness can shelter during the day, will continue to offer curbside service for patrons.
Health officials tested 130 people at shelters and housing facilities Friday, with nine testing positive as processing continued.
City Manager Rorie Watt said the outbreak among homeless residents is serious, but the city has “the potential to manage the situation more than if we had a similar number of cases randomly throughout the community.”
The city plans to reopen Centennial Hall as an isolation facility, but the hall was closed over the weekend because of a staff shortage, Watt said.
“It’s not easy to get people who want to work in that environment,” Watt said. “I mean honestly, the job description is: come supervise COVID-positive people, potentially with behavioral challenges, in a congregate setting.”
The Capital City Fire and Rescue’s sleep-off program is expected to relocate from Mendenhall Valley to Centennial Hall to provide medical professionals at the site.
The change means people detained for public intoxication will be housed in the same building as those who are in virus isolation and quarantine.
The Glory Hall homeless shelter is closed during the day but is open for a limited number of people overnight.
The city’s emergency shelter run by St. Vincent’s at the Juneau Arts and Culture Center remains open.
Officials do not completely understand the virus spread among the homeless population, St. Vincent’s Director Dave Ringle said Tuesday.
“We can observe the behaviors within our shelter for the 12 hours our shelters are open, but we have no control over what happens in the other 12 hours or what’s happening outside our shelter,” Ringle said.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.
The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.