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Norovirus outbreak winding down at House of Charity

The tents outside the House of Charity homeless shelter are down and routines are slowly returning, but some people infected by norovirus are still quarantined inside the building.

“Things are still not normal, but we’re getting closer every day,” said Catholic Charities director Rob McCann.

Meal, laundry and mail service have resumed for clients. The building has been decontaminated and sterilized with the exception of the upstairs, which still houses 34 sick people. Thursday night 210 people slept downstairs, which set a new housing record for the shelter, McCann said.

The norovirus hit Saturday, leaving dozens ill, including more than half the shelter’s staff. Portable toilets and hand-washing stations were set up outside and the street was filled with a large tent to house those who weren’t sick.

“The goal now is to get everyone upstairs well and then sterilize the upstairs,” McCann said.

To keep the virus contained, the shelter has a new job description – a 24-hour-a-day “bathroom butler.” It’s that person’s job to wipe down and sterilize the bathrooms after each use.

“The staffing is kind of a nightmare,” he said.

McCann noted how Providence Health Care provided three meals a day for the homeless and handled laundry service. The city of Spokane rented the huge tent. The Spokane Fire Department also had a major role in treating the sick.

The cost for the norovirus response is approaching $30,000, McCann said. “It’s going to be a pretty steep number,” he said.

In addition to monetary donations, the shelter needs people to come in and clean, he said. Volunteers are given full body suits to wear.

It’s important that the shelter remain open, McCann said. “We can’t ever close because they have nowhere else to go,” he said.


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