The 35 guests and staff from the city’s largest men’s shelter who tested positive for coronavirus earlier this month returned to the facility on Friday after a two-week quarantine, which the majority completed at the Holiday Inn Express in Center City. The guests, none of whom displayed symptoms of COVID-19 at the time they were tested, did not develop symptoms during their quarantines, shelter officials said.
Guests were released from the hotel at 10 a.m. and trickled in through the shelter doors throughout the day, according to Jeremy Montgomery, president of Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission. Many of them walked back to the site.
“We are welcoming them back with hugs and open arms,” Montgomery wrote in an email. “They feel happy to be ‘home.’”
The logistics surrounding Friday’s return to the shelter were smoother than the initial transport of guests to the Holiday Inn completed on May 10, which Montgomery previously characterized as an “injustice,” he said.
Since early April, the city has used the Holiday Inn Express as a quarantine and isolation site for people who test positive for coronavirus or those who are awaiting test results and cannot isolate elsewhere. But for Sunday Breakfast, the site’s extensive intake and transportation process — mandated by the Philadelphia Department of Public Health — caused an impactful delay. The shelter’s presumptively positive COVID-19 guests spent a stressful night in close quarters while Montgomery and Erin Linden, Sunday Breakfast’s director of homeless services, helped guests fill out their intake paperwork.
Read More: Quarantine intake delays overwhelm shelter guests, staff after majority of shelter tests positive for coronavirus
Before the initial transport, all 63 guests and workers at Sunday Breakfast were tested for COVID-19 after contact tracing methods revealed that everyone in the facility had been exposed to someone with COVID-19. The Department of Public Health conducted its first building-wide testing at Sunday Breakfast on Thursday, May 7, and more than half of the group received positive test results by Saturday, May 9. Most of the group was quarantined in the Holiday Inn Express starting Saturday, May 9.
The city’s protocols for handling congregate settings have remained the same within the last two weeks, but the Office of Homeless Services and the Department of Public Health are joining forces to “determine if there are any necessary changes for handling outbreaks,” city spokesperson Mike Dunn wrote in an email on Friday.
So far, the departments have established a “COVID prevention space,” which is a facility for people who are high risk for COVID-19, but have not been tested for COVID-19, Dunn said. According to Dunn, high-risk is defined as “those over the age of 65 or with underlying health conditions who are unsheltered or in congregate sites.”
The COVID prevention space facility has about 100 rooms, and each guest is provided with their own room, bathroom, and shower, Dunn wrote. In its first week of operation, about 30 people have entered the prevention space, the oldest guest being 85 and the youngest being 65, Dunn said.
According to Dunn, to be placed in the site, guests are either identified by the Office of Homeless Services as meeting the designated high-risk criteria or referred to OHS by homeless service providers or homeless outreach.
The prevention site is located downtown, but the city will not reveal the specific address to protect the privacy of the individuals inside, Dunn said.
“Many are chronically homeless,” he wrote. “They have finally come in because they have their own room with a shower. They are smiling.”
According to Dunn, the city has not tested all staff and guests at any other shelters since the Sunday Breakfast outbreak two weeks ago. They now report three positive cases of COVID-19 among residents experiencing homeless, all of whom are quarantined at the Holiday Inn Express, Dunn said.
As for the guests at Sunday Breakfast, they return to newly painted walls on the first floor of the facility and a hot, catered meal by Sweet Lucy’s catering, Montgomery wrote.
“We are welcoming them back today even with fresh wall canvas artwork and decorations to make it feel more special,” Montgomery wrote. “All are returning very thankful stating that they were taken care of very well.”
Editors: Zari Tarazona, Jillian Bauer-Reese / Designer: Jillian Bauer-Reese / Translator: N/A
Kensington Voice is one of more than 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on economic mobility. Read more at brokeinphilly.org or follow on Twitter at @BrokeInPhilly.