Montreal shelters’ concerns heightened after homeless man tests positive for COVID-19

Coronavirus outbreak: Montreal shelters’ concerns heightened after homeless man tests positive for COVID-19
WATCH: A first reported case of COVID-19 within Montreal's homeless community has prompted concern among those who care for the city's most vulnerable. Global’s Brayden Jagger Haines reports.

A first reported case of COVID-19 within Montreal’s homeless community has prompted concern and questions among those who care for the city’s most vulnerable.

The Old Brewery Mission confirmed that a man who was in line for the food service outside the centre tested positive for the disease, caused by the novel coronavirus.

Montreal police showed up to the scene to inform the individual about his positive test result after he had been screened two days earlier, according to the mission.

READ MORE: Montreal announces measures to protect city’s homeless amid pandemic

Matthew Pearce, the mission’s president and CEO, said the man came into contact with some of their clients on Monday night but that he did not enter the building.

“They were not practicing social distancing in a line where you’re hungry and we’re bringing you food,” he said. “So that was something that was a problem.

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“I think we have fixed it now in terms of our protocol, so we can carry on with security with the help of the SPVM but it was tense moments there on Monday night.”

In Montreal, a hotel has been set up to house homeless citizens who are awaiting test results. As part of measures to help the homeless, the city announced the old Royal Victoria Hospital will house individuals infected with the virus but it is only expected to open at the end of this week.

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READ MORE: Quebec’s non-essential businesses close as province ramps up COVID-19 measures

Pearce said it is troubling that the man was circulating in the area for two days without knowing he had tested positive for COVID-19.

The city’s police department would not comment on the case, but did say there is now increased police presence since the incident.

Global News has reached out to Montreal public health for more information, but has not yet received a response.

‘It’s very risky for clients if ever the virus gets inside the shelter’

The Quebec government has reported that the number of COVID-19 cases has surpassed 1,000 in the province. In Montreal, 439 people have tested positive for the disease as of Tuesday.

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The possibility that the illness could spread among Montrealers without a home is worrying for shelters and centres that do their best to help.

Sam Watts, CEO of Welcome Hall Mission, said the impact of the novel coronavirus has been a concern since at least February.

“It’s a concern if this particular virus gets into the community,” he said. “It’s an area where it is very, very difficult to control.”

An outbreak among the city’s homeless men, women and children means it could spread across the city, according to Pearce.

“It’s very risky for the clients if ever the virus gets inside the shelter the potential for it to spread is significant,” said Pearce.

“Once you have that kind of spread inside the shelter, all of Montreal has to be concerned because it means it is coming outside our walls.”

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Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are asked to self-isolate for 14 days in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others.

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Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

— With files from Global News’ Brayden Jagger Haines