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48 of 300 residents in Utah's largest homeless shelter test positive for COVID-19

Posted at 10:19 PM, Oct 31, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-01 00:19:57-04

OGDEN, Utah — On Friday, Ogden's Lantern House homeless shelter announced 48 people staying there had tested positive for COVID-19. Lantern House is the largest singular homeless shelter in the state.

"When you have 300 people living in an environment like this, we knew it would probably happen," said Melissa Freigang, a spokesperson for the Weber-Morgan Health Department.

On October 23, the shelter had its first case of COVID-19 since it started testing residents in March. Freigang says the shelter then took the steps to quarantine anyone who was in contact with the person who tested positive.

"Anyone who was in close contact with that individual were also tested," she added.

By October 26, Lantern House and the county health department began to find more people who were showing symptoms of COVID-19.

The facility began to test residents throughout the week through the Midtown Community Health Center, which operates within Lantern House, as well as with help from the state health department which assisted with a full-scale testing event.

In a statement sent to FOX 13, the Lantern House shelter said by Friday, October 30 they had conducted 220 tests and found 48 total cases in the facility. Thirty-seven of the positive cases were single men, nine were single women, and one was a single mother staying in the facility with her child.

"Once we had three confirmed cases the Weber-Morgan Health Department did [begin] to use the word outbreak," Freigang said.

At first, the county health department was sending people who tested positive, or were symptomatic, to an undisclosed quarantine facility. Once the outbreak began to grow, Freigang said Lantern House and the county health department worked fast to turn the shelter into a quarantine and isolation facility.

"They are remaining at the Lantern House, and are put into an isolation wing," she said.

Those people who were not positive or symptomatic were then sent to undisclosed locations for their health and safety. Freigang said this allowed them to continue receiving services while limiting exposure to the virus.

So far, there have been two deaths since the first positive test in the facility. Although, they have not yet been officially linked to the outbreak.

"At this time both deaths are still under investigation," Freigang added.

Lantern House's statement said one of the victims was an elderly male resident, and the other was a single mother with a child who was staying at the facility. The statement adds that "the child has been placed with the next of kin."

Freigang said the reason the facility is just seeing their first case, months after the start of the pandemic, is due to the health protocols that were already in place.

"The shelters have been doing a phenomenal job in response to this pandemic," she added.

In addition to extra sanitations, Freigang said staff at the facility had been checking the temperatures and looking for symptoms in each person staying at Lantern House since the start of the pandemic.

The Weber-Morgan Health Department and Lantern House said they will continue to isolate people who are symptomatic at the shelter until they have determined everyone affected has tested negative for COVID-19. At that time, residents who were sent to the undisclosed locations can return to the facility.