Testing indicates no Covid-19 spread at Northampton H.S. homeless shelter

BY NANCY ASIAMAH

WWLP.COM

THURSDAY, APRIL 30TH, 2020

NORTHAMPTON, Mass. (WWLP) – Covid-19 testing for homeless individuals at Northampton High School revealed minimal to no spread of the virus among the group, according to the city.

Testing was done on Tuesday at the high school by Dr. Jessica Bossie, a physician for the Health Services for the homeless in Springfield. Dr. Bossie was assisted by three nurses, who tested not only the shelter residents but also the ServiceNet staff working at the shelter.

Test results came back on Wednesday.

“I am incredibly pleased with these results,” said Northampton Health Department Director Merridith O’Leary. “We’ve seen some shelters in other parts of the state where testing has indicated positive rates as high as 40 to 60 percent. Northampton has succeeded in the main mission of its shelter – to slow the transmission of disease to a near stop among this population.”

O’Leary attributed the low positive count to Northampton’s fast response to the public health crisis to shelter homeless people during a pandemic, including executing the city’s Emergency Response Team, urging social distancing and proper hygiene.

O’Leary added that because community transmission is currently high, city leadership, shelter staff, and residents must continue to be diligent to ensure the shelter maintains a healthy environment.

I am incredibly proud of what the City of Northampton has accomplished with the shelter at Northampton High School. We knew early on that we needed this resource for the safety of our most vulnerable residents who lack housing and that we had to move quickly. I am grateful to the Health Department, our Fire Rescue Department, the School Department, the Police Department, Central Services, and other key members of the city’s Emergency Response Team for their work on this effort. I am thankful for our strong partners, ServiceNet, for their expert team’s assistance in running the shelter, to the many dedicated community volunteers who’ve given their time, to Cooley Dickinson Hospital for providing tests and expediting the results, and to the many groups who have donated food, materials, and other necessities that made this life-saving resource possible.

NORTHAMPTON MAYOR DAVID NARKEWICZ

The shelter at the high school opened on April 1 as a replacement to ServiceNet shelters on Grove Street and Center Street as those locations were closed to maintain proper social distancing among those seeking shelter during these times.

It is operated by the Northampton Department of Public Medical Reserve Corps Coordinator, and ServiceNet, with support from Northampton’s Fire Rescue and Police Departments and Cooley Dickinson Hospital.

O’Leary attributed this week’s negative coronavirus test results to the following practices:

  • Medical screening, including temperature checks upon acceptance at the shelter;
  • Screening, including temperature-taking, twice a day for residents, volunteers and staff;
  • Requirement of hand-washing and sanitizing upon entry;
  • Mask requirements in all common areas except at meals;
  • Social distancing signs and reminders to keep at least six feet apart;
  • The placement of sleeping cots eight feet apart.

The shelter is not a lock-in shelter, residents can come and go, but are encouraged to stay on campus if possible. Common areas include the cafeteria where meals are provided and space for leisure time activities including movies, games and puzzles.

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