Some of NH’s homeless show symptoms of COVID-19, state preps quarantine sites

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Laconia State School is a proposed quarantine site for the homeless. Photo/Alan MountJoy

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New Hampshire Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette says there are a handful of people in the state’s homeless population who have either tested positive for or exhibit symptoms of COVID-19.

For those who need a safe place to quarantine, the state is providing a hotel room in the person’s community of residence. Currently, the state is providing such rooms for 10 unsheltered persons, both those who have exhibited symptoms themselves and those who have come into close contact with someone who has.

Shibinette says this system has been working so far.

“But it takes one small cluster at a shelter or one outbreak at a shelter that would change that,” she said in a phone interview. “Because there’s 40 to 140 people at a shelter, if you have a small cluster of illness you’re going to end up needing to quarantine, you know, 10, 15, 20 people.”

The state’s plans to protect the homeless population during the pandemic are twofold. First, they’re trying to reduce the number of people in existing shelters by creating temporary shelter locations.

“In that scenario these are not sick people,” says Shibinette. “We’re just trying to find alternate placements for them so that we don’t have such crowds and they’re able to socially distance easily.”

Second, the state plans to set up two quarantine facilities for homeless people who are infected with COVID-19.

“We’re scanning the entire state for what is an appropriate setting that will allow us to do this,” she says. “So we have a couple of different ones right now that we’re evaluating.”

One possible location is the Laconia State School in the Lakes Region. Shibinette says there has been some pushback from the local community over concerns that creating the site would could cause an outbreak in the area.

But Shibinette insists those concerns are unfounded.

“When our unsheltered population needs to quarantine, they don’t get to walk the streets,” she says. “When people quarantine they have to quarantine.”

The two quarantine sites will have 24/7 staffing and security, as well as wraparound services that include mental health services, substance abuse services, and housing services. Food will be provided from local restaurants that are trying to stay afloat, and laundry services will be provided by local laundromats.

The state has not released the location of the second quarantine site. But, Shibinette says, she’s hopeful that some of these sites may be set up by the end of the week.

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