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Spokane homeless shelter becomes quarantine site after COVID-19 outbreak

Spokane Public Schools students participate in distance learning at the Open Doors Homeless Shelter in east Spokane on Sept. 17. This month, the shelter was turned into a quarantine site for families who are homeless and have cases of COVID-19.  (Libby Kamrowski/ THE SPOKESMAN-R)

Seventeen people have tested positive for COVID-19 at the Open Doors Homeless Shelter in east Spokane, essentially turning the facility into a quarantine site and forcing the remaining residents to other sites.

The impact of the outbreak is far-reaching.

Most facilities in Spokane already are straining because social-distancing requirements have limited their capacity.

In a press release issued Monday, Open Doors claimed to have turned away 68 people in the last week and 32 on Nov. 4 alone.

The Open Doors facility, 2002 E. Mission Ave., now holds about 30 people – those who have been confirmed positive, plus their families.

Open Doors learned of the first confirmed case on Thursday, when a person staying at the shelter called from a doctor’s office and reported testing positive for COVID-19.

The facility arranged for that guest and their family to be transported directly from the doctor to an isolation facility, then contacted the Spokane Regional Health District to begin the contact tracing process.

Since then, the facility’s operator, Family Promise of Spokane, has been working with the health district and Community Health Association of Spokane.

“We’ve got a history of being open and honest with our guests and staff,” said Joe Ader, executive director at Family Promise. “We want to be as transparent as possible about this.”

In its press release, Family Promise added that “other local congregate shelters have also experienced positive COVID cases at their respective sites.”

Ader would not disclose which other shelters may have had positive cases.

Calls to the health district regarding possible outbreaks at other facilities were not returned.

After the initial guest was diagnosed, contact tracing determined this family had been in close contact with two other guest families and three staff members at Open Doors. The two families were tested and isolated and the three staff were tested.

Each of those families and one staff member tested positive on Friday. Representatives of CHAS tested all shelter guests and any staff that had been at the shelter since Nov. 2.

“We now have confirmed 17 total positive cases between guests and staff,” Family Promise said in a release on Monday.

Family Promise administrative staff held an emergency virtual meeting Sunday with Springer and Kylie Kingsbury, the homeless outreach coordinator at the health district, and the district’s Homeless Outreach Coordinator Kylie Kingsbury.

“It was determined that we will turn Open Doors into an isolated quarantine facility with only confirmed positive guests staying at the site,” Family Promise said.

All other guests testing negative have been or will be moved to separate sites, Ader confirmed on Monday.

Family Promise began preparing for this scenario early on in the pandemic.

“When the virus arrived in Spokane we were the first agency to modify our procedures, cancel volunteers and implement our own isolation facilities on March 13,” the release stated. “We have had a mask mandate and have been following health district and CDC guidelines since that time. Those precautions worked well and we did not see any cases in the shelter or with our staff for eight months.”

“However, we knew that even with all of the precautions in place, eventually we would see this in the shelter and now we have.”