Moncton homeless shelter hit hard by spread of COVID-19 outbreak
Homeless population especially vulnerable during pandemic, says advocate
Dozens of residents in Moncton's largest homeless shelter are in isolation after an outbreak of COVID-19 spread through the building.
House of Nazareth has reported 37 cases linked to the facility since an outbreak was first declared by Public Health on Oct. 19.
Zineb Elouad, the interim executive director, said staff first became aware of a positive case after rapid testing a client.
"Then we had four swabbing clinics, and we were having more positive cases coming," she said in an interview.
Elouad said everyone who tested positive at the downtown shelter has been moved to a separate isolation site at the Lions Club on Mark Avenue. The shelter is no longer accepting new clients during the outbreak and is rapid testing every two to three days. Public Health is also conducting PCR testing.
The provincial rapid outbreak management team is at the isolation centre.
Employees at the House of Nazareth, which has more than 100 beds, are now running the main shelter and the isolation site and are working 12-hour shifts. Five more people have been hired during the outbreak.
"We are stretching a lot of our staff," Elouad said.
Increased risk for homeless
The outbreak is the second known cluster of cases at a homeless shelter in the province.
Harvest House, another Moncton shelter, experienced an outbreak last month which resulted in 31 positive cases. That facility also relocated residents to the Lions Club building before the outbreak was resolved earlier this month.
Vincent Merola, a community development officer with the city, said Moncton's homeless population is especially vulnerable during the pandemic.
He said most of the population suffers from untreated mental health issues, which have been exacerbated during the pandemic.
"Crowded dormitory-style shelters does put folks at increased risk for sure, of contracting COVID," Merola said. "But our shelters and frontline agencies are pretty nimble and they've really done a good job with the resources they have."
Elouad said the message on public health restrictions is getting across to everyone.
"The vulnerable population sometimes, they will not follow the protocol of COVID. They sometimes share snacks, share cigarettes, and this is how the virus spreads," she said.
Vaccination clinics have been offered directly at homeless shelters in Moncton.
All staff and residents were tested on Thursday and the results are expected on Friday.