Large Scale Covid-19 Testing Begins at Fort Collins Homeless Shelters in Effort to Protect Community Health

IMAGE COURTESY DOWNTOWNFORTCOLLINS.COM: Azatlan Community Center

COVID-19 mass testing will be offered this week at the Northside Aztlan Community Center (NACC) to people experiencing homelessness. This project is a collaborative effort supported by Catholic Charities, Fort Collins Rescue Mission, Homeward Alliance, the Health District of Northern Larimer County, SummitStone Health Partners, Homeward2020, and Precision Security.  This collaboration of community service providers began in March when the City of Fort Collins allowed use of the facility for emergency shelter. In the months following, this team has been working together on various initiatives to help protect unhoused individuals by monitoring their health and safety, working to slow the spread of COVID-19 in our community.

As many people experiencing homelessness are over the age of 50 or have underlying medical conditions, they may be more at risk for severe disease compared to the rest of the population. Recent guidance from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) has placed a high priority on testing for people in long-term care facilities and shelters. Given this news, the team working at the NACC responded immediately with a request to participate in mass testing.

The Health District of Northern Larimer County worked closely with CDPHE to secure 300 tests, with access to more if needed. The Health District will begin with testing for guests at the NACC, and move to the other shelter facilities later this week. Testing is also provided to all staff and volunteers.

“There are compelling reports of asymptomatic COVID-19 test results in communities and at emergency shelters around the country. It is crucial to identify asymptomatic cases to better understand COVID-19 prevalence and impact in our emergency shelters,” said Director of Homeward 2020, Holly LeMasurier.

Following CDC guidance, any shelter guest who tests positive will be moved to the Health District’s isolation and recovery site. Individuals will be temporarily housed at this site until they are fully recovered and safe to return to congregate shelters.

The Health District continues its infection prevention and control measures at the NACC with daily temperature and symptom screenings at meal times. Hand washing stations are also provided for guests to use before each meal.

“At the very least, we hope that this virus reveals to the wider community that those experiencing homelessness should not continually be looked at as an outside group,” said Regional Director of Catholic Charities, Joseph Domko, “but rather how very much connected we actually all are to one another. The health and wellness of one group affects the wellbeing of the entire community.”

The pandemic is adding a significant amount of stress to an already overextended homeless service system. Program partners need community support to assist in the operations and maintenance of each of the shelters. Anyone who may be in a position to help can donate to either Catholic Charities, Fort Collins Rescue Mission or Homeward Alliance by visiting the websites.

Once the mass testing initiative concludes, a report will be issued to the public outlining results.

Prior to this mass testing program, twenty-seven symptomatic guests were tested for COVID-19 at the NACC, with only one positive result at the site so far.