King County health officials report 27 positive COVID-19 virus cases among the homeless population amid ongoing efforts to serve people with no place to self-isolate or quarantine.
During a media conference call April 8, officials with Public Health — Seattle & King County said the 27 positive cases came from homeless people who were tested in 12 shelters. Of those positive cases, 12 came from the Lazarus Center in Seattle and six cases came from a shelter space at Boeing Field (King County International Airport), officials said.
The county also has three sites for isolation and quarantine so far to serve the homeless, including motels in Kent and Issaquah as well as modular buildings in North Seattle. A site in White Center is still in development, and Harborview Medical Center is in the process of opening an isolation center in Seattle, according to health officials.
TJ Cosgrove, division director of the county’s Community Health Services Division, said “strike teams” are doing on-site assessments at homeless shelters when there’s a positive COVID-19 diagnosis. Testing supplies have been prioritized to serve this segment of the population in shelters along witha walk-up clinic in downtown Seattle and mobile walk-up testing, he said during the conference call.
In addition to creating 6 feet of distance between bed occupants at shelters, the county has also offered an initial round of 60 motel vouchers in an attempt to get vulnerable homeless individuals with health problems into safe bedding before they become ill, said Leo Flor, director of the county’s Department of Community and Human Services.
The county also reports an increased spread in hepatitis A among the homeless population — a condition that has been attributed to limited bathroom access and unsanitary conditions.
“There’s no substitute for keeping people healthy in the first place,” Flor said during Wednesday’s conference call.
Flor said he expects the homeless population will require this type of assistance for months. The cost for these operations entail round-the-clock medical treatment, behavioral health assistance, security and more.
“We do not think we’ve reached the peak of this,” Flor said Wednesday, noting that the total cost will likely exceed the county’s recent appropriation of about $18 million to serve the homeless population during the coronavirus crisis. “We don’t know how long the response will go.”