Prince Albert cold weather shelter closed after COVID-19 outbreak

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A Saskatchewan shelter had to temporarily close its doors after seven guests tested positive for COVID-19 in a single night.

YWCA Prince Albert CEO Donna Brooks said the outbreak at the organization’s Stepping Stones shelter could have “spread like a wildfire” if local public health hadn’t proactively offered testing to residents.

“If we hadn’t had that, it would be way, way worse,” Brooks said.

Stepping Stones is a cold weather shelter with 20 beds. Twenty guests were tested for COVID-19 on Dec. 2. Seven results came back positive.

The Saskatchewan Health Authority’s medical health officer for Prince Albert said the proactive testing was done because members of the “at-risk transient population” were frequently appearing as contacts in contract tracing.

“The challenge was two-fold: notifying the clients of their exposure and recommending the testing, and secondly testing the clients and providing them with results in a timely manner due to their vulnerable transient nature,” Dr. Khami Chokani wrote in a statement.

Chokani ordered the testing and expedited laboratory analysis in the hopes of “mitigating the possibility of super-spreader event.”

Brooks said all guests are screened for symptoms and have their temperatures taken at the door. The seven who tested positive had no symptoms and would not have been detected otherwise.

Brooks said all 20 of the guests are now self-isolating, as are many staff.

“We want to make sure we take care of our staff. Our staff don’t sign up to be exposed to infectious diseases … that’s a stressful thing,” Brooks said.

An SHA spokesperson said testing of “urgent clusters” has been deployed previously in the pandemic, in places like communal living settings.

The authority is also piloting the use of rapid point of care tests in long-term care and may be exploring the use of them in other settings.

Brooks said the thought of widespread community transmission has her worried. She said many of the homeless people in Prince Albert have underlying health conditions that would put them at risk.

“That’s a population, if it gets in there, it’s going to spread like wildfire. You’re talking about people that share needles, share cigarettes. It’s going to spread like wildfire. So what can we do to mitigate risk?”

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