Discussions are underway to triage and quarantine homeless people who test positive for the novel coronavirus in a 26-room, three-story building behind the Institute for Human Services’ women’s shelter on Kaamahu Place in Iwilei.
IHS already has been screening clients coming into it’s separate men’s and women’s shelters since last week. But now that there is “community spread” of the virus, starting Wednesday all 400 clients in IHS’s facilities from Sand Island to specialty homeless homes around Oahu will be temperature checked and assessed every day, including flu tests at IHS’ medical clinics for people who show symptoms.
But there is no way to quarantine clients who may possibly test positive for the coronavirus in the larger men’s and women’s shelters.
“Normally people self isolate in their home,” said Connie Mitchell, IHS’ executive director. “That (Kaamahu Place building) would be an excellent place for that to happen.”
City Councilman Joey Manahan, whose district includes IHS, said he hopes state Health Department officials triage potential homeless patients in the building’s outdoor courtyard, test them for the coronavirus on site and then quarantine any homeless person who tests positive.
“We heard the concerns regarding possible spread in the homeless community,” Manahan said. “We were looking for a site to possibly do quarantine.”
The city bought the building for $9 million to possibly relocate the Sand Island Treatment Center when the city expands its Sand Island wastewater treatment facility.
It was previously used as a half-way house for released federal prisoners and is “move-in ready,” Manahan said.
With two beds per room, the building could house 52 COVID-19 patients, Manahan said.
The city’s nearby Punawai Rest Stop on Kuwili Steet has been assessing people entering the homeless hygiene center but there is no place to isolate possible coronavirus patients because the two stories of future housing are still being built out.
Anyone coming into Punawai who shows a fever or symptoms are “being turned away and asked to seek medical treatment, Manahan said.
“What happens after that, we don’t know,” he said.
Discussions continue about the Health Department’s possible involvement in assessing patients at Kaamahu Place and taking care of those who test positive while in quarantine.
“There’s some discussion going on, but it’s still being coordinated,” said Health Department spokeswoman Janice Okubo. “It’s not a done deal.”
Mitchell worries that the coronavirus could spread among homeless encampments across Oahu.
“Encampments are places where you generally don’t have access to hygiene,” she said. “People have a higher opportunity to develop infectious diseases. If somebody becomes infectious, it could really spread to other people. If somebody gets it and they’re out there walking around, not getting the medical attention they need, then they can become a vector for more people becoming infected.”
While IHS will be stepping up its monitoring of potential coronavirus cases starting Wednesday, Mitchell is trying to urge precautions while not inciting panic among her clients, many of whom are mentally ill.
“With all the attention on coronavirus, people are feeling overwhelmed,” she said. “Many of the people we serve have mental health issues. A large part of what we’re trying to do is help people stay calm. It’s a serious threat. But we can’t be immobilized by our fear.”