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8 Boston homeless people test positive for coronavirus

Two people left St. Francis House, one of Boston's largest shelters, on March 23 to go and secure a spot in line at another shelter where they plan to spend the night. Fears of the novel coronavirus have spread among the homeless community.
Two people left St. Francis House, one of Boston's largest shelters, on March 23 to go and secure a spot in line at another shelter where they plan to spend the night. Fears of the novel coronavirus have spread among the homeless community.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

The novel coronavirus has spread to Boston’s homeless community, with eight people testing positive for COVID-19 in recent days, medical officials said Monday.

Of the eight who tested positive, five spent time at local shelters in recent days, said Dr. Denise De Las Nueces, medical director the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program.

One of the infected homeless residents had spent time at the Pine Street Inn and another shelter before testing positive for the virus, said Marty Martinez, the city’s Human and Health Services chief. City public health workers were able to track where that person had been, and later moved to isolate 14 or 15 people who had been in contact with the infected person.

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“We were able to do that, immediately get people out of the shelter, reduce the risk, and really do everything to keep people protected,” he said.

All eight patients are being treated at area hospitals. Six are under care at the Barbara McInnis House, the program’s medical respite clinic for the homeless.

Several others remain in isolation at local hospitals and shelters while they wait for test results, De Las Nueces said.

For weeks, concerns about the virus have spread among those in the homeless community, which is especially vulnerable to the disease.

The diagnoses come amid an ongoing campaign by city officials and local service providers to head off a wider outbreak among the city’s homeless residents. Much of the effort has focused on local shelters, which provide needed temporary lodging but don’t allow for social distancing.

Shelter operators have begun taking additional steps, even as they contend with waning resources and reduced staff. Testing and temporary isolation facilities have popped up outside several area shelters, including the Southampton Street shelter in the South End. Each tent can accommodate around 20 people.

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Mayor Martin J. Walsh on Sunday announced the city had secured the use of two privately held buildings as part of a plan to free up space in already crowded shelters.

"We’re looking at how do we find and help as many populations as possible so we’re not overwhelming our medical facilities and only the most serious cases go there,” Walsh said.

The new sites, the Nathan R. Miller student dormitory at Suffolk University in downtown Boston, and former Kindred Hospital in Brighton, will add about 240 beds.

The sites are being prepped and could be available within a week.

Danny McDonald of the Globe staff contributed to this report.


Vernal Coleman can be reached at vernal.coleman@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @vernalcoleman