Northampton, Amherst getting accommodations for people with COVID-19

BY BERA DUNAU & SCOTT MERZBACH

DAILY HAMPSHIRE GAZETTE

TUESDAY, APRIL 21ST, 2020

NORTHAMPTON — The state has opened up accommodations for people who have tested positive for COVID-19 in the city, while in Amherst, clients of the town’s homeless shelter will be getting COVID-19 tests for the first time this week as the town sets up a quarantine shelter at Hampshire College to accommodate those who test positive.

In Northampton, the Quality Inn & Suites at 117 Conz St. has entered into an agreement with the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency to house people who have tested positive for COVID-19 but aren’t expected to require significant care. These individuals include the homeless, but also elderly and disabled individuals who can’t be in a facility but still require some assistance.

“We felt like it was the right thing to do,” said Shaun Leahan, the hotel’s general manager.

Leahan said that there are less than 10 people currently using the site and that it has 24/7 security and nursing staff.

“They’ve been absolutely wonderful,” Leahan said of the nurses.

He also said that the operation, which opened up last week, has been very well organized.

“It’s been as good as it possibly could be,” Leahan said.

While MEMA is coordinating logistics and wraparound services at the site, it’s not on the site itself.

The state has four other isolation and recovery centers, located in Everett, Lexington, Pittsfield, and Taunton.

The Quality Inn & Suites has also been used by the city of Northampton to house homeless individuals experiencing coronavirus symptoms, and Mayor David Narkewicz said it will now use the MEMA operation there for that purpose.

“The MEMA development is a really positive one,” Narkewicz said.“That’s an excellent resource.”

Since April 1, the city has been running a 24/7 homeless shelter at the gymnasium at Northampton High School in partnership with the nonprofit ServiceNet. Narkewicz said it averages 48 to 52 residents a day, and that there is enough space there to allow for social distancing.

The shelter is staffed through a combination of ServiceNet staff, city staff and volunteers. Those using it are encouraged to stay onsite and breakfast, lunch and dinner are all provided. Hygiene facilities and entertainment options are available onsite.

The mayor said that COVID-19 has further highlighted the need for a day center in the city, plans for which are being advanced.

Susan Lowery, a doctor who assists Craig’s Doors with the operations of the homeless shelter in Amherst, said individuals coming to Craig’s Place will be tested for COVID-19 for the first time this week.

Once a person is positive for coronavirus, even if asymptomatic, that person would have to go into the quarantine being established at Hampshire College. There, beds will be available, three meals a day will be served, and medical supervision and medical checks will be done, along with other support, such as mental health and addiction services.

If someone has more serious symptoms of the illness, Lowery said MEMA will provide housing and medical supervision, getting a higher level of care to that person, who would be held in isolation at a different location.

Lowery said she is interviewing people to staff the shelter on the college campus. That shelter will extend beyond April 30, which is the last day of the season for Craig’s Place.

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