PORTLAND, Maine — A woman who recently spent time at the Oxford Street Shelter tested positive for the new coronavirus, health officials said Monday, in a test of a series of safety measures recently instituted by the open shelter.
The person who tested positive arrived in Maine from Massachusetts on March 25 before staying at the city-owned overnight shelter for “a few nights,” said city spokesperson Jessica Grondin. She is currently in quarantine within one of three buildings at the city’s emergency family shelter on Chestnut Street.
Grondin said Portland officials “are following all proper protocols to identify and inform” people who came into contact with the woman. Once they are located, they will be quarantined in a separate part of the family shelter. It is not clear how she obtained a test, what kind of treatment she is getting in quarantine or how severe her symptoms are.
The city began taking temperatures of anyone coming in and out of the city’s shelters at Oxford Street Shelter, the Family Shelter and Barron Center last week. Oxford Street Shelter will remain open to the homeless population 24/7, city manager Jon Jennings said Monday.
The news has amplified concern in Portland’s community of people who are experiencing homelessness. Tammy Alsadoun, who has been staying at the shelter for years, said that she learned from a staff member that someone who had stayed at the shelter had tested positive.
Since the coronavirus has spread, those who stay there now sleep head to toe, but still only a few inches apart. Alsadoun called the news “worrisome,” but she said housing options are few.
“Yes, I’m going to stay here tonight. What other choice do I have? Sleep over there on the sidewalk?
A new 50-bed overnight shelter for people experiencing homelessness will open “as soon as possible” at the University of Southern Maine’s Sullivan Gym. The temporary shelter will be operated by the nonprofit Preble Street, a homelessness resource center, and will receive assistance from MaineHousing and the Department of Health and Human Services.
Portland has reported no Oxford Street staff members testing positive for the virus as of Tuesday. Two police officers, one firefighter and two members of the General Assistance office have tested positive. The city renewed its emergency shutdown via a remote city council meeting on Monday, extending its stay-at-home order through April 27.