Twenty COVID-19 Cases Under Investigation at Iwilei Homeless Shelter

August 13, 2020, 4:58 PM HST · Updated August 13, 4:58 PM
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The State and City and County of Honolulu is working with the Institute for Human Services Sumner’s Men’s Shelter in Iwilei to isolate and quarantine individuals at the shelter, as 20 cases in connection with the shelter were brought under investigation.

The Governor’s Coordinator on Homelessness, Scott Morishige, said that state, city, and other service providers have been planning for impacts of COVID-19 on the homeless population since early March.

“As a result of our planning and coordinated effort, we have had almost no positive cases in the homeless community for the past five months. When IHS first learned of the positive cases, they notified DOH and worked quickly with them and the City to transition individuals into quarantine and isolation sites. Due to the close coordination and preparation, homeless services in our system can continue while IHS temporarily quarantines its Sumner St. location,” said Murashige.

Outreach to homeless individuals to provide access to quarantine, testing and other services will continue. As a precaution, the state will also temporarily suspend cleanups on state lands that adversely impact or may displace homeless individuals, with the exception of enforcement actions that are necessary to address immediate health and safety concerns.

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Over the last several days IHS, the City and County, and the State had been systematically relocating guests identified in contact tracing who had tested positive to quarantine offsite. But the latest cluster of cases indicated community spread had occurred within and the safest and most efficient path to suppressing the current outbreak is to transition into a quarantine facility.

“At this juncture, isolating the positive cases at the shelter and providing quarantine beds and wrap-around services for the other occupants to stay in place is the best strategy for preventing the spread of the virus,” said Eddie Mersereau, DOH deputy director of the Behavioral Health Administration.

The Sumner shelter provides rest and respite services for up to 112 adult men each night since social distancing had already reduced their capacity. On Aug. 5, the shelter learned of its first positive case.  On Aug. 7, Project Vision Hawai‘i began testing guests identified as most at risk based on contact tracing and first positive test results were received on Aug. 8.

The shelter will be temporarily closed to new admissions for reorganization and thorough cleaning as individuals in isolation and quarantine complete their stay there for at least 14 days. IHS is working with DOH on case investigation, outreach, and testing to determine when the shelter may reopen and resume normal services and the City and County are assisting with support.

“Time is of the essence as we work to control the spread of COVID-19 in our community. We will continue to work with our partners at the Department of Health, and the IHS Men’s shelter, to support the quarantine and isolation effort at IHS, and to adapt to further needs in this very vulnerable population,” said Marc Alexander, Executive Director of the Mayor’s Office of Housing. “With the current level of community spread occurring on O‘ahu, it’s going to take all levels of government, as well as the public to effectively curb the spread of this virus.”

All necessary resources will be leveraged to provide services at the shelter as we wrap the shelter, its staff and the residents with medical, meals, counseling and other services. The partners welcome any support that other organizations or the community are interested in offering. Organizations interested in providing support may contact IHS Community Relations Officer Jill Wright. Increased outreach services for individuals who are homeless in the community served by the Sumner shelter are being planned and will be conducted in coordination with Partners in Care and the Governor’s Coordinator on Homelessness.

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