First 2 COVID cases bring change to Kitchener's Better Tent City

People living at Kitchener’s Better Tent City have stepped up their safety precautions after the first two COVID-19 cases in the community were confirmed over the weekend.

Residents must now wear masks inside communal areas

A group of cabins are pictured at Kitchener's Better Tent City community in December, 2020. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC)

People living at Kitchener's Better Tent City have stepped up safety precautions after two people in the community tested positive late last week. 

"It's really different over here now," said Nadine Green, the site coordinator.

The two people who tested positive are in isolation and are no longer on-site, she said.

The Better Tent City is a temporary community built as a quick path to housing during the COVID-19 pandemic. The site at Lot 42 on Ardelt Place is home to people who were previously homeless and now live in tents and small cabins. 

As of this week, masks and sanitized hands are mandatory for anyone entering communal spaces such as the shared bathrooms and kitchen.

Instead of eating meals indoors, people have been told to bring them back to their tents or cabins.

There are also heightened cleaning measures, and residents have been told not to invite visitors over or to enter each other's cabins.

Previously, masks were only mandatory for outsiders, such as volunteers, coming in. The idea was that masks are not required for people in their homes, and the Better Tent City is home to those who live there.

Now, the masks will likely be the norm going forward, said Green.

Volunteer Laura Hamilton said she's happy with how residents have reacted to the new policies. She said some people may not have been concerned about catching COVID themselves but have come around to the masks and other measures after learning how important they are in keeping others safe.

"It's a stronger community now," said Hamilton.

Cases expected in all populations: Dr. Wang

The region's medical officer of health, Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang, said on a media call Friday she isn't surprised to see cases emerge among people who are homeless or living in shelters and similar settings.

"With the community spread, we expect to see cases in all population groups," said Wang.

Still, Wang said tests done within this particular population have come back with a relatively low positive rate.   

"There's been a lot of work and excellent collaboration behind the scenes to try and prevent further spread, and so far it appears the efforts have been paying off quite well, relatively speaking," said Wang.

The region's chief administrative officer, Bruce Lauckner, said during the same call he's happy with measures taken by community groups who work with this population. Still, he said he is asking the province for more isolation resources aimed at those who don't have a safe place to stay apart from others.