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COVID-19 cases surging in Boise’s homeless community

The latest surge of COVID-19 is hitting Boise’s homeless community hard.

This week one of Boise’s emergency homeless shelters reported a spike in cases as the more contagious Delta variant spreads throughout the Treasure Valley. Over two dozen infected guests are now being housed at a designated hotel for them to isolate as they recover to slow the spread of the disease.

[Boise’s homeless community on pros and cons of Interfaith Sanctuary’s proposed move]

Mass testing reveals 14 sick guests

Interfaith Sanctuary said last week five guests arrived at check-in to stay for the night after having tested positive for COVID-19. They were moved to the COVID-positive hotel for the homeless community and Family Medical Residency of Idaho tested the rest of the shelter.

Of the 170 tests conducted over two days, 14 guests came back positive and were moved to the hotel. The hospital system also discharged 13 homeless patients who didn’t need a high level of intensive care to the COVID-positive hotel to make room for more patients in the overloaded hospitals. This brings the total of guests staying in the hotel to 27 over only two days, which is over half of the total capacity of 42.

Interfaith Executive Director Jodi Peterson-Stigers said FMRI is training her staff to monitor sick guests’ oxygen levels to make sure they catch early warning signs. But, even those guests that are holding steady on oxygen levels are sicker than the ones they previously had to care for.

“Even those maintaining those good oxygen levels are really sick,” she said. “Often they can only eat soup and are really fatigued. It’s a higher level of need than we had at the beginning of the pandemic so we’re adjusting.”

‘Can we get you guys vaccinated?’

The COVID-19 hotel and the batch of rooms at the Red Lion hotel currently sheltering homeless families and those at high risk of adverse effects from COVID-19 are paid for with FEMA funds through a partnership with the City of Boise. Interfaith Sanctuary is covering meals and staffing for the two extra locations.

Two weeks ago, one of the shelter’s residents, Debi Davis, died of COVID-19 after testing positive for the virus one day after she scheduled a vaccination appointment, KIVI reported. Peterson-Stigers estimates a little less than 60% of the shelter’s regular guests are vaccinated, but she hopes the numbers will spike after a vaccination clinic for guests opens later this week.

“We know from the memorial we held that many people came to us and said they are going to be vaccinated because of Debi,” she said. “We started the sign up for the clinic the night of Debbie’s memorial to say “in honor of her, can we get you guys vaccinated?”

Day shelter working to slow spread

Staff at the Corpus Christi House Day Shelter is also keeping their eyes peeled for signs of COVID-19 in its guests.

Chad Summervill, the co-chair of the Board of Directors for Corpus Christi House, said they are working with Interfaith Sanctuary to promote vaccinations. The day shelter also instituted some strict COVID-19 protocols a month ago, which require masks for anyone inside the building and do not allow any food or drinks to be served inside. He said by keeping the building only open for specific services like laundry, mail and showers it stops people congregating in the small space.

He said it is harder for his volunteers and staff to catch positive cases because of the transient nature of guests using their services, but Summervill said the spike in cases is concerning and they are watching out for guests who might be sick.

“I think the staff and our guests are obviously concerned and worried about how things are trending as all of our community is, but there isn’t a specific visible marker that we see at Corpus,” he said. “That probably has to do with the timeline we see people in. We see them only in the daytime and they move in, they move out, versus one of the shelters where people are checking in and sleeping overnight and you’re getting to a much more personal level with people.”

Rev. Bill Roscoe, CEO of Boise’s larger emergency shelter Boise Rescue Mission, could not be reached for comment about COVID-19 cases in his shelter system.

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Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. Reporter
Margaret Carmel is a BoiseDev reporter focused on the City of Boise, housing, homelessness and growth. Contact her at [email protected] or by phone at (757)705-8066.

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