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NORTHAMPTON, MA (WGGB/WHSM) -- Testing conducted this week at the city’s shelter for the homeless at Northampton High School indicated minimal presence of COVID-19, according to an announcement from the city Thursday.

“I am incredibly pleased with these results,” Northampton Health Department Director Merridith O’Leary said in the announcement. “We’ve seen some shelters in other parts of the state where testing has indicated positive rates as high as 40 to 60%. Northampton has succeeded in the main mission of its shelter: to slow the transmission of disease to a near stop among this population.”

The low positive count is being attributed to the city’s efforts to shelter the homeless during the pandemic, the city’s emergency response team, social distancing protocols and cooperation from residents, shelter staff and volunteers, according to the announcement.

“I am incredibly proud of what the City of Northampton has accomplished with the shelter at Northampton High School,” Mayor David Narkewicz said in the announcement. “We knew early on that we needed this resource for the safety of our most vulnerable residents who lack housing and that we had to move quickly. I am grateful to the Health Department, our Fire Rescue Department, the School Department, the Police Department, Central Services, and other key members of the city’s Emergency Response Team for their work on this effort.”

The high school shelter is spacious enough that residents and staff can follow proper social distancing and hand hygiene guidelines, according to the announcement.

On Tuesday, Dr. Jessica Bossie, physician for the Springfield-based Health Services for the Homeless, gave tests to all shelter residents and ServiceNet staff working at the shelter, according to the announcement.

Cooley Dickinson Hospital provided testing supplies, personal protective equipment and created the testing system for the shelter. Results came back Wednesday, according to the announcement.

The shelter opened April 1 to replace ServiceNet shelters on Grove Street and Center Street, where spaces were too close for adequate social distancing, according to the announcement.

O’Leary attributed this week’s negative coronavirus test results to the following practices:

Medical screening, including temperature checks upon acceptance at the shelter

Screening, including temperature-taking, twice a day for residents, volunteers and staff

Requirement of hand-washing and sanitizing upon entry

Mask requirements in all common areas except at meals

Social distancing signs and reminders to keep at least six feet apart

The placement of sleeping cots eight feet apart.

The shelter is not a lock-in shelter, according to the announcement, and residents are allowed to come and go, though they are encouraged to remain on campus if possible.

O’Leary also attributed the shelter’s success to the strong partnership created by Cooley Dickinson, which supplied the testing equipment and created the system for testing and result reading, the city, and ServiceNet, as well as other community support, according to the announcement.

Meals are provided by Smith College and the Hampshire County Jail and House of Corrections.

The shelter is also supported by community donations, including McDonald’s, which provides a meal a week, the Veterans Services Department, which provides a hot breakfast on Sunday mornings and an assortment of sundries donated by residents, according to the announcement.

Copyright 2020.  Western Mass News (Meredith Corporation).  All rights reserved.

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