HOUSTON — For months, city of Houston and Harris County health officials have been keeping a close eye on Houston’s homeless population knowing that an outbreak wouldn't just stay in a shelter, it could follow them back onto the streets and put others at risk.
“We’ve been testing the homeless on the street and in the shelters for two months. Until last weekend, we were not seeing any positive cases at all," said Marc Eichenbaum, Special Assistant to the Mayor on Homeless Initiatives.
Eichenbaum said 69 residents and eight staff members have now tested positive at one shelter.
“I consider it a spike, it seems to be isolated right now," Eichenbaum said.
The cases are all at the Men’s Development Center downtown. Right now, it’s not accepting new clients and the city is vowing to increase homeless testing.
“Now, we are testing, we are testing every single person in our homeless shelters," Mayor Sylvester Turner said.
The city had already secured hotels to house homeless citizens who needed a place to quarantine. Now, it’s opened the Fonde Recreation Center. Not for the sick, but for shelters who need overflow to properly social distance.
“Those that are in our shelters are especially at risk, these are high-density locations where it can be difficult to self-isolate," Eichenbaum said.
The true impact of COVID-19 maybe months, or years, down the road. Eichenbaum said the pandemic’s economic impact could leave thousands of more Houstonians homeless.
The Star of Hope released the following statement:
"The City of Houston has been working with Star of Hope throughout the Pandemic. Last week they offered COVID – 19 testing for Star of Hope’s Men’s Development Center, and voluntary testing took place this week.
"Through this effort, positive test results have been reported for a number of our residents and staff. To date the majority of those testing positive are asymptomatic. The city is actively working with us for quarantine and adequate care measures. We continue to follow City of Houston and CDC guidelines. The Men’s Development Center is not accepting new clients at this time and is operating “at capacity” based on these guidelines until the virus threat subsides.
"We continue to monitor information from The Center for Disease Control (CDC) as well as information provided by local and national government and health authorities regarding COVID-19. We also continue to provide regular COVID-19 training sessions for our staff and residents to help them better protect themselves and their families during the pandemic."
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