EVERETT — About 50 homeless people have tested positive for COVID-19 in recent weeks at Everett shelters, according to local officials.
One death appeared to be linked to a recent outbreak at the Everett Gospel Mission. A man who frequented the men’s shelter died Friday morning while in the hospital with the illness, said Sylvia Anderson, the mission’s CEO.
Since a person staying at the Smith Avenue shelter tested positive for COVID-19 a few days before Thanksgiving, about 40 more cases have been confirmed among people who were also there, according to Snohomish County’s Joint Information Center.
Those who tested positive were immediately taken to the county’s isolation and quarantine facility at the Evergreen State Fairgrounds in Monroe. It’s a safe place to stay for people who have or might have COVID-19, but have nowhere else to go, to cut themselves off from others.
About 15 patients, who were no longer considered contagious, returned to the shelter this week, Anderson said.
Officials were aware of at least seven more cases in people who took refuge late last month in downtown Everett’s Carnegie Building, where the Salvation Army is operating an emergency shelter.
The recent outbreaks are the only ones to hit local homeless shelters, as far as emergency management officials know.
Public health experts and advocates for the unsheltered have long warned of the possibility of COVID-19 tearing through shelters, encampments and other hubs for people who are homeless. The population is plagued by underlying health issues — often undiagnosed or untreated — that can make people more susceptible to becoming severely ill with coronavirus, experts say.
And even though shelters have mandated masks and slashed bed counts to implement social distancing rules, there’s only so much that can be done to stop the spread of the respiratory illness in communal living quarters, advocates have acknowledged.
After the first case was confirmed in an Everett Gospel Mission client on Nov. 24, that person was taken to the quarantine facility, Joint Information Center Manager Scott North said. The following day, the Snohomish Health District provided guidance to the mission.
Also on Nov. 25, the quarantine facility admitted 21 people who were staying at the Carnegie Building shelter, but that referral was “not directly related to the case at the mission,” North said.
Not all those who came from the Carnegie Building had confirmed positive tests. Some had simply come into contact with an infected person and needed to be monitored for symptoms. People who tested negative and didn’t show any other signs of infection have returned to the Carnegie Building, which is running as usual, county spokesperson Kent Patton said.
Public health workers tested everyone at the Smith Avenue shelter almost a week later on Nov. 30. An initial round of widespread testing there discovered 14 cases of COVID-19 among shelter clients. A second round of blanket testing on Dec. 8 found 27 more homeless people there had the illness.
“Almost everybody who tested positive was asymptomatic,” Anderson said.
The men’s shelter has not admitted anyone new since learning of the outbreak, she said. Those who tested negative for the coronavirus have been allowed to stay.
Three staff members also tested positive and are expected to recover, Anderson said.
“We had gone about seven months with only one asymptomatic positive,” she said.
That person at the men’s shelter tested positive for coronavirus in July. Then, about 50 individuals who might have come into contact with the patient were sent to the quarantine site to be tested and monitored, according to the health district.
The shelter was briefly closed “out of an abundance of caution for cleaning and sanitizing,” says a past news release from the health district.
No more infections turned up until late November, Anderson said.
The men’s shelter will likely resume normal operations when all clients have been discharged from the quarantine facility, Anderson said.
She suspects the rest will return by the end of next week.
Those who returned late this week are “glad they’re back,” Anderson said. “And they’re glad that they don’t have to go looking for somewhere else to stay. We’re going to stay in this fight with them.”
Rachel Riley: 425-339-3465; email@example.com. Twitter: @rachel_m_riley.