State issued orders 5 times this week to keep homeless COVID-19 patients in quarantine

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Updated: Aug. 14, 2020 at 5:47 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - A state Department of Health quarantine order that was rarely issued before the pandemic was used five times this week after residents of the Institute for Human Services men’s shelter either skipped out on isolation — or were deemed high risk to do so.

Yellow caution tape now lines perimeter of the homeless shelter on Sumner Street after 30 residents tested positive for COVID-19.

On Friday morning, members of the Community Mobile Response Team assisted in testing all 68 people currently being quarantined inside the facility.

The majority of residents have been cooperative but not everyone’s been following the rules.

“It starts off as a voluntary choice. If the individual breaks isolation or quarantine in a way the Department of Health deems a danger to the community we evaluate the case with our Attorney General and then if it’s appropriate we do the order,” said Eddie Mersereau, DOH deputy director of Behavioral Health.

Mersereau says if someone leaves there’s not much HPD can do until a quarantine order is issued and a court signs off on it. That can take between 24 and 48 hours.

“We’ve been working with HPD and state law enforcement closely to make sure that we have some level of awareness and security with the facility,” he said.

HNN has learned COVID-19 patients are being kept on one floor, while those who were potentially exposed to the virus are staying on another.

Both areas are being cleaned regularly through a partnership with members of the hotel workers union.

Shelter staff and health care providers are on-site around-the-clock.

“For people who are positive, they are being kept together. So it’s easy to determine if someone is missing,” IHS Executive Director Connie Mitchell said.

Mitchell says although the men’s shelter is no longer open to new admissions, IHS continues to provide street outreach and other case management services.

Meanwhile, plans are in the works to create more isolation space for the homeless.

“The city negotiations for another Temporary Quarantine and Isolation Center are still in progress in addition to that we’re also doing negotiations for additional hotel units,” said Marc Alexander, of the city’s Housing Office.

If someone wants to come in off the street, Alexander says there is bed space at other shelters and at the Provisional Outdoor Screening and Triage Facility at Keehi Lagoon Park.

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