Homeless person at isolation centre tests positive for COVID-19 in Winnipeg

By | June 16, 2020

A person staying in an isolation centre for homeless people in Winnipeg tested positive for COVID-19, the organization that runs it says.

One person in the 39-bed isolation centre on Sargent Avenue received a positive test result while staying at the centre, said Cindy Titus, a spokesperson for Main Street Project.

“The isolation site has provided further 14-day quarantine support for this individual,” Titus wrote in an email Monday.

She was unable to provide more information about the patient’s condition.

Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief public health officer, declined to confirm on Monday whether anyone experiencing homelessness had tested positive for COVID-19.

“We’ll make information public whenever we feel that it was putting Manitobans at risk,” Roussin said Monday.

“If many Manitobans were exposed and we’re unlikely to be able to … identify contacts, then we’re going to announce that. In these cases, that’s not the case, and that’s why any further details aren’t necessary to protect Manitobans.”

140 people used centre so far

The isolation centre opened on April 10, with support from the provincial government. Since it opened, 140 homeless people have used the centre to self-isolate while awaiting test results, Titus said.

The site, in a vacant Manitoba Housing apartment block, is intended to provide a safe place for patients to self-isolate while awaiting test results, and to quarantine if they test positive, said Rick Lees, executive director of Main Street Project.

Patients who stay there have access to food and medical supports, including nurses on staff, with other programs offered, including addiction support.

Lees said the site has been used daily, especially following the opening of a community testing site at Thunderbird House on Main Street.

“One of our issues at the start was the ability of homeless people to get to, even, a testing site. Most of those sites were just not within close proximity for people who are on foot or are living on the streets,” Lees said.

We’ve had a steady flow through there recently as people have been able to get tested and into the facility and kept safe.

Lees declined to comment on the positive test result at the isolation centre.

‘Right thing to do’

Elsewhere in Canada, advocates have raised concerns about homeless people being vulnerable to the pandemic and left out of government planning.

In Toronto, two men died of COVID-19 and 18 were infected in an outbreak at a single shelter. At the end of last month, more than 450 cases of COVID-19 in that city had been linked to shelters, and the city agreed to use “its best efforts” to make shelters safer following legal proceedings initiated by public-interest groups.

Lees said Manitoba has been able to get ahead of the curve.

“I think, generally, we all agree that Manitoba has done well during this COVID-19 pandemic,” Lees said. 

In addition to the isolation centre, Main Street Project opened another shelter for people who need somewhere to sleep, with distance between cots and access to showers.

“As a community, there was a large outcry that we need to do something for our most vulnerable, and people listened, and those supports came forward,” Lees said.

Advocates have long called for better supports for homeless people in the city, and Lees hopes measures brought in for the pandemic become permanent.

“There will be a second wave, for sure, of COVID-19 — and besides COVID-19, it’s absolutely the right thing to do.”

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