Study shows area homeless largely free from coronavirus

  • Northampton Director of Public Health Merredith O'Leary enlists the help of Zach and Drew Davine, left and center, ten-year-old twin sons of Fire Chief Jon Davine, to hang signs at the 48-cot emergency shelter in the high school gymnasium on Wednesday, April 1, 2020. —Kevin Gutting

Staff Writer
Published: 5/3/2020 6:40:23 PM

Recent testing for COVID-19 among homeless individuals staying at shelters in Northampton and Amherst, as well as staff and volunteers at both locations, has revealed virtually no spread of the infection.

Northampton officials reported “minimal presence” of the novel coronavirus at Northampton High School, where guests of the year-round Grove Street Inn and the seasonal Interfaith Emergency Shelter have been accommodated since April 1.

“Northampton has succeeded in the main mission of its shelter — to slow the transmission of disease to a near stop among this population,” Health Department Director Merridith O’Leary said in a statement issued following the late April tests.

O’Leary credited various practices in use, including twice-daily temperature checks, mask wearing, hand washing and social distancing, for the success, observing that shelters elsewhere in the state have seen 40 to 60% of people test positively for COVID-19.

Mayor David Narkewicz complimented volunteers, city officials and the ServiceNet agency for diligence in overseeing the new shelter.

“We knew early on that we needed this resource for the safety of our most vulnerable residents who lack housing and that we had to move quickly,” Narkewicz said.

Similarly, Amherst officials are reporting that there was no presence of COVID-19 found among people at the Craig’s Place homeless shelter, which operated from the First Baptist Church until May 1.

“This is such good news for everyone — especially the guests, but also the volunteers and staff,” Town Manager Paul Bockelman said in a statement.

“Providing tests for those who have stayed or worked at the shelter is an important step in protecting the health of these individuals and provides more information on the prevalence of asymptomatic disease,” said Health Director Julie Federman.

This means that a Hampshire College dormitory set up to quarantine homeless people who had been in contact with COVID-19 positive individuals will not be necessary, though Federman said the testing could not have been done without this plan.

“To test is to treat, so it was critical that we had the Hampshire College site ready to go to provide quarantine with all ancillary services, laundry, cleaning, food, security, staffing, in place,” Federman said.

The tests in both communities were done by Dr. Jessica Bossie, a physician for Health Services for the Homeless, of Springfield, who was assisted by three nurses, coordinated with Cooley Dickinson Hospital, which provided results within two days.

State numbers

The number of those killed by the coronavirus in Massachusetts topped 4,000 on Sunday. The state’s Department of Public Health reported 1,824 new cases and 158 new deaths, following Saturday’s numbers of 1,952 new cases and 130 new deaths. The new cases bring the state’s total to 68,087.

The number of confirmed deaths from COVID-19 now sits at 4,004, with 2,368, or 59%, being people in long-term care facilities. The average age of those who have died from the illness is 82.

Gov. Charlie Baker on Friday announced an order that will go into effect Wednesday requiring all Massachusetts residents over the age of 2 to wear a mask or other face covering while outside if they are unable to keep an appropriate distance between themselves and others.

There are 3,617 people across the state hospitalized, an increase of 16 individuals from the previous day, marking the first jump in hospitalizations since April 26. The average age of those hospitalized is 69.

During the weekend, the 3,776 new cases were the result of 25,010 tests administered, for a 15.1 percent positive rate.

Holyoke and Northampton

In data provided by the state updated each Wednesday, Holyoke has 596 confirmed cases, with at least 232 of these coming from the Soldiers’ Home, which has become the site of one of the deadliest known outbreaks at a long-term care facility in the country.

As of Sunday, there were 71 confirmed deaths from COVID-19 among veteran residents at the Soldiers’ Home, with 84 deaths of veteran residents in total, according to state data. Another 80 veteran residents and 81 employees also tested positive.

Hampshire County has 599 positive COVID-19 cases, with Northampton having 167 of these as of Wednesday.

More than 30 of Northampton’s cases, based on data also last updated on Wednesday, have been confirmed at CareOne at Northampton.

Hampshire County Sheriff Patrick J. Cahillane reported Friday that there are currently no known COVID-19 cases inside the Hampshire County Jail and House of Correction in Northampton.

Twenty inmates had previously tested positive but have since recovered, and four staff members have also tested positive. No inmates displayed COVID-19 symptoms as of Thursday.

Elsewhere in Hampshire County, Amherst had 83 confirmed cases according to the state, though the town has disputed that number on its social media channels.

In a post to Twitter and Facebook following the April 29 release of that data, town officials cited this as a “reporting error.”

“The report shows 83 but the correct number for Amherst, and reflected on our sites, is 33. The state was unable to correct this number prior to the release of the document this afternoon. We expect it will be corrected soon.”

Easthampton has 50 cases, South Hadley 51, Hadley 27, Belchertown 62, Granby 18, Southampton 25 and Ware 15. All other Hampshire County communities had fewer than 10.

Area hospitals

Across the state, 904 of the 3,617 individuals battling COVID-19 in hospitals were in intensive care units.

Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton reported having two patients in its ICU among 10 COVID-19 patients being treated.

An additional 22 outpatients are under investigation for COVID-19 infection by Cooley Dickinson. The hospital has had 496 people test positive overall.

At Baystate Health, 100 inpatients are being treated for COVID-19 infection, with 15 of these in the ICU. An additional 30 inpatients are under investigation for the respiratory illness.

Baystate has tested 6,981 people to date, with 1,207 results coming back positive, 5,711 negative, and 61 pending results.

So far, 75% of those who tested positive at Baystate have either been discharged or never required hospitalization.

Holyoke Hospital has 37 inpatients confirmed with COVID-19 and three in the ICU.

Staff writer Jacquelyn Voghel contributed to this report.

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