PORTLAND, Maine — A coronavirus outbreak at Oxford Street Shelter has infected 10 guests and five staffers.
Positive cases have nearly doubled there since Tuesday when Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Nirav Shah said his agency had opened an outbreak investigation at the city’s overnight shelter for people experiencing homelessness.
The city has operated its overnight shelter at Oxford Street at half capacity during the coronavirus pandemic, maintaining sleeping mats for 75 people.
Along with the outbreak at that shelter, city officials are managing outbreaks among guests at the Family Shelter, a facility for unhoused families, and the Barron Center, a long-term care facility for older adults. Thirteen residents at the Barron Center have died from COVID-19 in recent weeks.
Portland City Manager Jon Jennings said many staff have worked “around the clock” to address issues and make contingency plans.
“The current conditions of COVID-19 are impacting our city and staff in great ways, and we’re doing everything we can to manage staff who have been affected by the recent surge in the virus,” he said. “My top priority is for the safety of the residents of this city and our city staff. I’m proud of the work our staff has done for almost a year now in trying to combat the virus.”
Advocates for people experiencing homelessness in Portland cited the potential for an outbreak at the shelter as a reason why they’ve pushed city officials to increase shelter options.
“A half-capacity Oxford Street is still overcrowded. This is the sad and inevitable result of a city that has ignored the voices of affected people and the warning calls of activists and medical professionals,” said Jess Falero, an organizer with the People’s Housing Coalition.
“We wish a speedy recovery to all those affected and we hope the city ensures that all shelter residents and staff that contract COVID due to the city’s negligence get the best medical care available,” Falero said.
A proposal for an emergency 40-bed shelter run by Preble Street, a nonprofit homeless services organization, was approved by the city’s planning board last month after months of deliberation and opposition from neighbors.
The city has sheltered roughly 400 people nightly in area hotels using funding from coronavirus relief grants.
Oxford Street Shelter guests who have tested positive will be quarantined in a separate hotel.