With beds at homeless shelters in high demand, IHS uses testing, vaccines in attempt to manage COVID

Published: Aug. 9, 2021 at 5:06 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Next week marks one year since a COVID outbreak temporarily shuttered the Institute for Human Services men’s shelter. With beds in high demand, the state’s largest homeless service provider says it’s now using a combination of testing and vaccines to keep its clients safe.

“What we’re really trying to do is reduce the threat of bringing COVID into the shelters,” said IHS executive director Connie Mitchell.

In addition to sanitizing and social distancing, all guests must test negative for COVID within 48 hours of entering the shelter. Testing is a continued requirement — twice a week if you’re not vaccinated.

Nurses from Project Vision are also regularly on site offering up the shot.

“It’s a good thing, you know,” said Sharmane Botelho.

Botelho has been fully vaccinated going on three months. She said it makes her feel more protected, especially since everyone’s living close together.

“It’s for my safety as well as other people’s safety,” she said.

Mitchell described the shelters as being “quite full,” adding that regular mass testing has helped them keep COVID from getting out of control.

Over the weekend, she says they identified seven positive cases spread out at three different facilities.

“One family here at Kaaahi. One individual at the men’s shelter. And a couple at Hale Mauliola. (They lived in) one unit,” she said.

Mitchell says those clients were immediately placed in isolation at local hotels and that staff moved quickly to track down their close contacts and get them into quarantine.

“The vaccines work,” she said. “If you look at the people who testing positive the majority, they are predominately unvaccinated.”

Meanwhile, the state’s homeless crisis is becoming even more apparent on the street and driving up demand for shelter beds.

For now, people are being asked to camp at HPD’s tent city at Keehi Lagoon when the shelters are full.

“If they’re willing to go to the HONU, we have them there until we can open up beds here,” Mitchell said.

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