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COVID-19 outbreak at Moncton homeless shelter poses challenges

Click to play video: 'COVID-19 outbreak at Moncton homeless shelter grows to 31 cases' COVID-19 outbreak at Moncton homeless shelter grows to 31 cases
WATCH: There are seven more COVID-19 cases at a homeless shelter in Moncton. An advocate says it's difficult to manage an outbreak in a setting where people often don't have their own home, car or phone. Callum Smith reports. – Sep 15, 2021

The executive director of Harvest House Atlantic in Moncton says it’s been “a taxing couple of days” for staff and clients at the homeless shelter.

“It is a transient population, so one of our biggest challenges has really been keeping them on site, because what we want to make sure is that we keep people isolated and not moving around the community,” Marc Belliveau says.

Still, he says they’ve been able to ensure clients are well-fed and comfortable, so no one has left yet.

“Our goal is to keep the transmission within one area as much as possible,” he says.

If someone does choose to leave, the shelter has a protocol to contact Public Health so other community agencies can be notified.

Forty-seven clients are currently staying at the shelter, he says.

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“In a shelter environment, it’s really not conducive to a COVID outbreak,” Belliveau says, noting they’ve had a pandemic response plan ready for a situation like this.

Read more: New Brunswick to require vaccination proof as new cases hit daily record high

More details on moving people to a “more suitable location” could be made public Thursday, he says.

Dr. Jennifer Russell, the province’s chief medical officer of health, says there are seven more COVID-19 cases at the shelter, bringing the total number of cases connected to the organization’s buildings to 31.

The province announced Wednesday that anyone who lives and works in some communal settings — like assisted living facilities, shelters, community kitchens and addiction and mental health treatment facilities — will now be required to be fully vaccinated, or required to wear a mask and get tested regularly for COVID-19.

According to Public Health, most of the recently-reported cases have been among people who are not fully vaccinated.

Ensemble Moncton, a harm reduction group, sees many clients who are homeless or precariously housed, including a number of people who frequent Harvest House.

Executive Director Debby Warren says managing an outbreak within a vulnerable setting like a shelter poses many hurdles.

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Read more: P.E.I. brings back masks, introduces new testing for kids as COVID-19 cases rise

“Our biggest challenge is where do they go? What do we do for them? One, how do we get them tested, because that’s a real challenge,” she says.

“You and I have a car and we can phone or go on the internet and set up an appointment, go get tested and follow up… Our folks don’t have any of those.”

She says the testing issue is being addressed by the health authorities and Public Health.

Warren says addictions disorder poses another health risk if people are forced to isolate or can’t access services.

“If they don’t take their substance, they become very ill and experience awful withdrawal,” she says.

“The general public might look at that and say, ‘Aw, well, we shouldn’t have to worry about that,’ but we do. It’s a health condition and it’s a very real issue.”

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