County’s new pandemic team will assess homeless for COVID-19

It’s an attempt to stop the virus from spreading unnoticed through vulnerable communities.

EVERETT — With the pandemic’s peak hopefully in the rear-view mirror, county officials are turning their attention to those who may have gone unnoticed.

Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers announced on Friday a new “pandemic team” called SAFE — short for SnoCo Agencies for Engagement — that will reach out to people without shelter. Fire, police and health agencies across the county are contributing to the effort.

“Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, one concern of ours … is there might be unmonitored pockets of the virus spreading in communities that are hard to reach, in particular those that are living without permanent shelter,” Somers said at a news briefing.

Made up of physicians, paramedics, social workers and law enforcement officers, the team is an extension of the county’s embedded social worker program that does outreach at encampments. The SAFE team, wearing personal protective equipment, will go to places where people are known to congregate, assess them for COVID-19 symptoms and connect them to any needed services.

Once screened, the SAFE team may move those who are sick to the county’s isolation and quarantine facility at Angel of the Winds Arena in Everett, where further testing can be done. Anyone who tests positive would stay in isolation up to seven days from the onset of symptoms, or until fever is gone for 72 hours, whichever is longer. Snohomish County Animal Services and the Everett Animal Shelter can hold onto any pets.

So far, the Snohomish Health District has reported fewer than five positive COVID-19 cases among those who are homeless. But the county clarified in a statement, “this may be due to a lack of access to medical care, testing, and knowledge of how to access resources.”

Efforts to provide shelter have also increased. Since the county enacted emergency housing measures a month ago, hotel vouchers and the Carnegie Resource Center have given shelter to more than 300 people.

Zachariah Bryan: 425-339-3431; Twitter: @zachariahtb.

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