Virus sweeps through Northern Arizona homeless shelter

PHOENIX (AP) — Nearly one-third of the people staying at the largest emergency homeless shelter in northern Arizona have tested positive for the coronavirus, the shelter’s executive director said Thursday.

Most of the 20 people, including two staff members, with COVID-19 showed no symptoms, Flagstaff Shelter Services director Ross Altenbaugh said. The testing was done as a precaution and exposed a fear nationwide that the virus could spread among people living in close quarters, including homeless shelters.

“This is what we’ve been fighting against happening here,” she told the Arizona Daily Sun.

Those who tested positive have been moved to a motel to quarantine for at least two weeks, Altenbaugh said. The employees also are under quarantine.

The shelter has moved up to 75 of the most vulnerable residents to motels after they tested negative for COVID-19. At the main shelter, see-through partitions now separate employees and residents, mattresses are more sparse and everyone gets their temperature checked daily. Routine testing will be done at least every two weeks.

MAP: Arizona Coronavirus cases by zip code

“In a time where we need all hands on deck, we’re not laying people off, we’re not closed, we have more need than ever,” Altenbaugh told The Associated Press. “It’s a real challenge to have staff members taken out of the work flow.”

She said the shelter also is seeing a rise in residents from the Navajo Nation, one of the hardest-hit areas in the country. A town bordering the reservation in northwestern New Mexico extended a lockdown until Sunday to curtail the spread.

Meanwhile, the number of cases across Arizona is nearing 10,000 and deaths have reached 450, state health officials said.

The Department of Health Services reported 24 additional deaths and 238 more infections Thursday. It also said testing is up after a statewide push last weekend that will continue this weekend.

Gov. Doug Ducey started loosening restrictions he had imposed to slow the spread of the virus. Salons and barbershops can reopen Friday and restaurants can resume dine-in service Monday if they take safety precautions.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death. The vast majority of people recover.

In other coronavirus developments in Arizona:

— The Havasupai Tribe, which has no reported cases, announced this week that tourism is suspended indefinitely to prevent the virus from reaching the reservation deep in a gorge off the Grand Canyon. The reservation is known for its towering blue-green waterfalls.

— The federal government has awarded $13.4 million to 23 health centers in Arizona to expand testing to help track the spread of COVID-19. The money from the coronavirus relief package will fund staff training, equipment purchases, lab services and notifying people in contact with infected patients, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The centers are in the Phoenix and Tucson areas, Flagstaff, Casa Grande, Tuba City, Somerton and Green Valley.

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  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
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