Interior Health noting increase in COVID-19 cases among homeless in Kamloops

Homeless COVID increase

Interior Health has noticed an uptick in the number of cases of COVID-19 amongst the homeless population in Kamloops recently, but has not declared an outbreak.

An IH spokesperson said the health authority is monitoring the situation closely and working with its community partners to ensure people are safe and properly isolated. IH did not say how many active cases exist amongst the homeless population, if there are clusters or what would constitute an outbreak in a shelter setting.

Generally speaking, according to IH, an outbreak is declared when there is uncontrolled transmission occurring — multiple cases that are connected, but it’s not clear how the virus is passing between people. A cluster is defined as meaning more than one case grouped together in space or time has been found.

A few cases of COVID-19 were detected at The Mustard Seed on West Victoria Street more than a week ago, but nothing to warrant an outbreak. The downtown facility is operating at full capacity with its COVID-19 protocols in place.

Vaccines have been administered at The Mustard Seed and IH conducted COVID-19 testing at The Loop community resource centre in North Kamloops a day ago.

The Mustard Seed managing director Kelly Thompson said staff have noticed an increase in COVID-19 cases in general in Kamloops, but could not confirm any cases seen at the facility due to privacy concerns for clients and staff. Further comment on cases should come from IH, he said.

Alfred Achoba, executive director of the Canadian Mental Health Association, said he could not comment on any cases detected at the overnight shelter set up in the Kamloops Curling Club, downtown on Victoria Street, but noted the facility remains open and operational at full capacity — 50 people, as per COVID-19 restrictions.

He said there is a COVID-19 safety plan and cleaning protocols in place. He said staff are required to wear personal protective equipment available to them on site and clients are encouraged to wear masks. If a positive case is found, the CMHA has access to housing units where that person can self-isolate, Achoba said.

IH said appropriate housing is found so people without homes are able to isolate with COVID-19.

City of Kamloops social development supervisor Ty Helgason said the city’s role in responding to COVID-19 cases amongst the homeless population is to co-ordinate weekly meetings with housing providers, shelter providers, IH, the municipality and BC Housing to discuss response strategy.

He said IH will make a referral regarding a homeless individual with COVID-19, a housing operator will take said person in, BC Housing will fund it and the city will facilitate the conversations between groups.

“It’s a real community effort,” Helgason said.

He said people of this population are moved into hotel and motel units for isolation — with social services and meals maintained — when they return a positive test, while awaiting test results or if there has been a confirmed exposure.

IH said it does not provide addresses of where people may be recovering from illness or isolating to prevent illness.

Helgason said all operating shelters — Emerald Centre, The Mustard Seed mat program and overnight shelters at the Kamloops Curling Club and Memorial Arena — all have proper distancing procedures, cleaning and barriers between clients. They will also have clients moved into isolation units if the person is at greater risk of contracting COVID-19.

IH advised that COVID-19 continues to circulate in all communities and everyone needs to continue following COVID-19 precautions — isolating when sick, avoiding social gatherings, washing your hands often, practising physical distancing and wearing a mask.

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