Lawrence Community Shelter to close for up to 2 weeks after COVID-19 case; 76 guests and staff members put in quarantine

photo by: Mike Yoder

The Lawrence Community Shelter, 3655 E. 25th St., is pictured in this file photo from 2015.

Dozens of guests and staff members at the Lawrence Community Shelter are being put in quarantine after a guest at the shelter tested positive for COVID-19, causing an up to two-week closure of the shelter.

A guest who had been staying at the shelter for about the past week tested positive for the virus Tuesday night, according to shelter board President Thea Perry. Perry said that all 42 guests who have been at the shelter as well as the shelter’s 34-member staff, many of whom are part-time, could have potentially been exposed to the virus and have been placed in quarantine.

“The safety of the guests and staff has always been the most important thing in any decision that we make,” Perry said.

She said guests and shelter staff would likely be in quarantine for two weeks, and that the shelter would not be accepting new clients and the building would be closed during that time.

Perry said that the shelter made its decision based on guidance from Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health regarding how to deal with the positive case and quarantines. Initially, Perry said only eight people were quarantined based on contact tracing, but after further discussion with the health department the shelter is putting all 76 guests and staff members in quarantine because of the potential that the case could be the more contagious Delta variant of the virus.

Lawrence and the nation at large have been experiencing an uptick of new cases amid the spread of the more contagious variant of the coronavirus. Due to the possibility that vaccinated people could become infected with and spread the Delta variant, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health authorities have reinstated recommendations for wearing masks indoors, encourage anyone with symptoms to test for the virus and continue to push for more people to get vaccinated, as the Journal-World reported. The health department currently has no reports of a fully vaccinated resident having to be hospitalized for COVID-19.

Perry said that the health department’s guidance was that if the positive case at the shelter is the Delta variant, then everyone regardless of vaccination status should quarantine. Test results in that regard are pending, but Perry said that since 90% of local cases are now caused by the variant, the shelter was quarantining everyone out of an abundance of caution for the time being.

“If we were to remain open for three days waiting for those results, so many people would be exposed, and that is not worth the risk,” Perry said. “We may be able to reverse course if this is not the Delta variant, but right now we are not ready to make that call.”

When it comes to vaccinations and other factors, Perry said that all shelter staff members are vaccinated and that the shelter never lifted its mask rules, which require guests and staff to wear masks if they are in a room with another person or a common area, such as a hallway or a bathroom. She said guests have begun moving into hotel rooms since the positive test and the goal is to have everyone checked in by the weekend. Meals will be delivered to the guests at their hotel rooms.

In the case of staff, Perry said that staff members would quarantine at home for the next two weeks. She said though staff would not be able to provide in-person services during their quarantine period, they would call guests at the hotel every day to check in, and staff would be paid for the time they would have worked had they not been in quarantine.

Perry said all staff and guests were tested for the virus yesterday, and results are not yet known. She said testing will also be done to determine whether the positive case or any subsequent positive cases are from the Delta variant.

Perry said the shelter did surveillance testing every week during the height of the pandemic and every other week after local rates decreased, and that this week’s case is only the shelter’s fourth positive case since the pandemic began. She said the shelter will be paying for all guests to stay in hotels, and some existing grant money will go toward the cost of those hotel stays.

Contact reporter Rochelle Valverde

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