COVID outbreak occurs at temporary homeless shelter

covid virus

Fifty-four (54) individuals—including staff and guests—have tested positive for COVID-19 since Nov. 13 at the Blue Spruce Temporary Shelter, a Fort Collins congregate homeless shelter operated by Fort Collins Rescue Mission. The vast majority of the results were received this week.

Fort Collins Rescue Mission opened the shelter at 1301 Blue Spruce Drive at the start of November to serve unhoused male guests. The shelter serves about 100 individuals per night with adequate social distancing, which was not possible at Fort Collins Rescue Mission’s Jefferson Street location due to space limitations.

The current shelter is operated with extensive health/safety protocols and in close consultation with public health experts. Mass tests are conducted weekly. But with cases of COVID-19 rising sharply both locally and nationally, community spread remains possible even with extreme preventative measures.

The first positive result from the Blue Spruce shelter was received on Nov. 23 from testing completed on Nov. 13. Additional testing was conducted on Nov. 18, Nov. 25, and Dec. 2. Cumulatively, 50 unique guests and four Fort Collins Rescue Mission staff members have tested positive. The tests and results related to the 50 unique guests were conducted and received as follows:

These results prompted an immediate expansion of our community’s COVID-19 and homelessness response system that included:

  • Convening of an emergency management team to coordinate the response
  • Extensive outreach to locate/isolate individuals
  • Proactive outreach to agencies that serve people experiencing homelessness
  • Contact tracing related to all impacted individuals, in addition to standard contact tracing conducted by Larimer County Department of Health and Environment
  • Immediate opening of a new, overflow recovery space—in addition to the isolation/recovery/quarantine (IRQ) site already operated by Health District of Northern Larimer County and Homeward Alliance—for individuals who test positive
  • Elevation of essential services and simultaneous suspension of non-essential services and/or services that necessitate prolonged close contact.

“We have worked diligently to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 for our unhoused population,” said Dr. James Stewart, medical director for the Health District of Northern Larimer County, who has been serving as medical director for local IRQ sites. “And while we will do everything in our power to stop this outbreak—and know that our healthcare workers will do everything they can to help everyone recover—this is a reminder that when it comes to COVID-19, ‘safer at home’ cannot exist without a home.”

“Our staff will continue to vigilantly protect and care for our guests using all resources at hand, no matter the positivity rate we receive from testing. Their health and safety is our top priority,” said Seth Forwood, Senior Director of Fort Collins Rescue Mission. “Though so much has changed this year and throughout this pandemic, our calling and mission to stand alongside our guests as we give them shelter will not. It only adds to this privilege that we get to do so along such professional and competent community partners.”

The Health District of Northern Larimer County, Larimer County Department of Health and Environment, and Fort Collins Rescue Mission are coordinating the local response in close coordination with Homeward Alliance, Catholic Charities, Family Housing Network, and other local providers, the City of Fort Collins’ Social Sustainability Department, Larimer County Office of Emergency Management, and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Since early March 2020, those entities and countless others have partnered to open additional overnight shelter space, provide non-congregate shelter to people with underlying health conditions, launch an IRQ site for people experiencing homelessness, and implement extensive health and safety protocols at locations where individuals receive services