The City of Boston acknowledged on Tuesday that it is moving forward with unprecedented steps to contain the potential spread of coronavirus among Boston’s substantial homeless population and within homeless shelters.
City officials said that the city is installing heated tents outside two city facilities in the South End that will be used for screening and testing for the novel coronavirus and for quarantine or isolation in the event that shelter residents test positive or are presumed to be infected with the disease.
The officials cautioned that the move is intended to get ahead of the potentially disastrous possibility that the virus spreads within an overnight homeless shelter, some of which provide beds for hundreds of individuals every night.
“The demand and fatigue on the health care system is huge and trying to find more community-based lower-threshold environments where people can stay and reside during the self-isolation period is critical,” said Gerry Thomas, interim director of the Boston Public Health Commission. “And If you’re homeless, the definition means you don’t have a home to do self-isolation.
"So we’re trying to create a safe space” for individuals experiencing homelessness, Thomas said.
One site, at 112 Southampton Street, will provide space for individuals to be in quarantine as well as to perform testing and screening. Another outside the city, the Woods-Mullen shelter on Massachusetts Avenue, will provide screening and testing services.
Dr. Jessie Gaeta, chief medical officer for the Boston Health Care for the Homeless program emphasized that there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 among Boston’s homeless population and only small number of individuals have shown symptoms of the infection.
Right now, the tents will provide isolation capacity to approximately twenty people who show symptoms of coronavirus but have not been confirmed positive for the infection and another would provide quarantine capacity for almost as many individuals who are confirmed to have the virus, Gaeta said.
She added that city officials hope to be able to increase that capacity to over 50 individuals in the near future.