(TNS) - As Hudson County hunkered down Wednesday ahead of a massive snowstorm, county officials announced a Code Blue — an alert calling on shelters and warming centers to open for people in danger of exposure to the elements.
But inside potentially crowded shelters, administrators have taken steps to protect clients from exposure to a different danger: COVID-19.
“In that environment where you’re sharing the same air, the heat is obviously on, that’s how its going to spread\u201a” said Frank Mazza, Hudson County’s director of community reintegration. “There’s a huge danger.”
Pam Baker, who runs Collaborative Support Programs of New Jersey — the nonprofit organization that manages Hudson County’s warming center in Kearny — highlighted the steps the facility has taken to promote social distancing. The warming center, which provides overnight shelter to the county’s homeless population, has set up signage instructing people to wear masks and adhere to social distancing rules, and administrators have set up two separate dayrooms and are limiting the number of chairs at tables.
“It’s like a warehouse building almost, so the floors are very long,” Baker said. “So we have the ability to kind of break people up.”
Angelo Hunt, the program manager at St. Lucy’s Emergency Shelter, said the Jersey City shelter has cut its capacity from 125 to “somewhere around 80 beds” to adhere to social distancing rules.
“There’s temperature checks twice a day here,” Hunt said. “We check them during the daytime and then we check them again in the evening and compare their temperatures.”
The shelter has opened a one-person quarantine room if anyone shows symptoms. St. Lucy’s is offering COVID-19 testing Wednesday afternoon, and anyone who tests positive is transferred to a Christ Hospital-affiliated “step-down center.”
People who are chronically without housing have a much higher risk of severe coronavirus, Mazza said. Many have underlying health conditions and are over 60. To prevent shelters from becoming “an incubator for the virus,” Mazza said, county officials are putting up more than 400 homeless residents in hotels and motels, mostly along Tonnelle Avenue in Jersey City.
“It’s a huge bill, but we think were keeping the population safe that way,” he said.
At the warming center in Kearny, Baker has set up TVs and holiday-themed activities to make it “a more comfortable space” for visitors.
“We get to go home and take our masks off and relax,” she said. But for the center’s clients, “home is coming to us at night, where they can’t do that.”
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