health

NYC Hospitals Send Homeless Who Have Coronavirus to Shelters

A sign directs people to the entrance of a Department of Homeless Services-run shelter.
A sign directs people to the entrance of a Department of Homeless Services-run shelter. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

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City hospitals are sending apparently homeless people who test positive for coronavirus but aren’t in need of intensive medical care to the shelter system for isolation, THE CITY has learned.

Meanwhile, the number of homeless people with coronavirus infections living in city shelters more than doubled over the weekend as social services officials grappled with how to handle the growing number of cases affecting some of the most vulnerable New Yorkers.

The Department of Homeless Services confirmed Monday that the number of shelter residents with COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, jumped from seven on Friday to 17 by Sunday night. That’s a major increase from 10 days ago when only one shelter resident had registered a positive test.

Homeless people with the virus have now been found in 12 shelters across the city, DHS said.

Now the city-run hospital system is transferring patients who’ve tested positive for the virus into the shelter system if the person has no known address and isn’t deemed to require acute medical care.

As of Sunday, one such patient had been sent to the city homeless shelter system. Isaac McGinn, a DHS spokesperson, said the person only needed isolation.

Four of the 17 shelter residents with COVID-19 remained hospitalized, while the other 13 were “only exhibiting mild illness and do not require intensive hospital care at this time,” McGinn said.

Most of those with the lower-level symptoms were taking up beds in an isolation ward DHS has set up at an unspecified location, he said.

Push to Expand Isolation

Now the city is under tremendous pressure to find more isolation space as soon as possible. As of Sunday, 34 of the 100 beds in the DHS’ isolation ward were filled with shelter residents who either tested positive or were being monitored for symptoms because they had been in close contact with infected people.

DHS is scrambling to find another 100 beds.

Those placed in the DHS isolation ward include four individuals who’ve tested positive and the one patient sent over by the city Health and Hospital Corporation. Three more are self-isolating inside their individual units, while six others have left the shelter system and are staying with family or friends, McGinn said.

It’s unclear how quickly the virus may be spreading to homeless people living on sidewalks and in the subways. Though the patient who was sent to DHS from the hospital system was “lacking an address,” McGinn could not say where that person had been staying before being tested.

A spokesperson for HHC declined to discuss the patient sent to the shelter system. The spokesperson said he was looking into the agency’s protocol for determining which patients who’ve tested positive for coronavirus can be transferred to shelters.

McGinn said city outreach teams have fanned out across the city to look for unsheltered homeless with potential symptoms, but as of Monday only six such individuals had been referred to HHC hospitals. So far none have tested positive, he said.

As THE CITY reported Sunday, the closure of restaurants, many public bathrooms and other public spaces with restrooms has created a surge of street homeless showing up at city drop-in centers.

In addition, shelter officials are dealing with trying to carve out enough room to practice social distancing in a system that, as of Thursday, housed 57,000 people.

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