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Shelter House COVID-19 outbreak expected to grow

Shelter still able to operate near full capacity, has contingency plans if outbreak worsens, says executive director.
Shelter House Winter
Five people had tested positive for COVID-19 and fifteen were isolating as of Wednesday due to an outbreak at the Shelter House. (File photo)

THUNDER BAY – An outbreak of COVID-19 at a key Thunder Bay homeless shelter is expected to grow as testing results are returned in the coming days.

However, leadership at Shelter House Thunder Bay says the agency’s capacity to accommodate people hasn’t yet been impacted.

Executive director Michelle Jordan reported there were five confirmed cases among residents, an increase of one since the outbreak was declared on Tuesday. Another 15 people were isolating due to potential exposure.

She expects those numbers to grow in the coming days, as results are received from testing of residents and staff that took place Tuesday.

“We know this variant tends to spread like wildfire, so we’re expecting to see more cases,” she said. “It’s very early and the testing is happening, so we’re still monitoring everything.”

The virus is believed to have been brought in to the shelter by a client last week, she said.  

The Shelter House remained for now at normal pandemic capacity of 58. The slight reduction from its pre-COVID capacity of 62 is because the agency has repurposed a room for isolation purposes.

The shelter has developed plans if its ability to meet mandated staff-client ratios is threatened, she said.

“We do have contingency plans in place in case staff get ill, [although] those will only go so far,” she said. “We may have to redeploy staff, we may have to pull [the] SOS [program] off the road, depending on how bad the situation gets, but we’re prepared to do everything we need to do to keep the shelter up and running.”

Shelter House management met Wednesday to hone its response plan and discuss overflow options with community partners.

The Shelter House will test staff weekly going forward, Jordan said.

Jordan said there’s robust community support from other non-profits and government agencies, but worried about the impact of the outbreak during the coldest part of the year.

“We don’t want to leave people outside – that is a bigger risk right now than COVID,” she said.

She’s not aware of anyone connected with the outbreak being hospitalized so far, and said the majority are vaccinated and many would have received booster shots.

Still, she said, “we know this population is extremely vulnerable and they have health issues, so that could cause some complications for them.”

A dedicated COVID-19 isolation shelter is available for the homeless and other vulnerable people, and has seen usage increase in recent weeks, with about 20 people voluntarily isolating there as of Wednesday.

A separate outbreak at the Thunder Bay District Jail had grown to 52 cases as of Monday, and was expected to continue expanding.

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