SCHENECTADY – As winter approaches, Code Blue shelters across the county have already seen a wave of activity, raising concerns about the ability to meet high demand amid a rapidly spreading virus that, for the second year, changed the way the shelters work.
The county has already recorded 225 overnight stays at its Code Blue shelters this winter, or about a third of the 609 seen throughout last winter season, according to data provided by the county. Shelters provide homeless people a warm place to stay when temperatures drop to 32 degrees or less with child wind taken into account.
“There are already a lot of people and we haven’t seen the intense cold yet. We are preparing for a very comprehensive Code Blue [season]Said Michael Saccocio, executive director of the City Mission of Schenectady, the county’s main Code Blue refuge.
In addition to the City Mission, the county operates Code Blue shelters at Bethesda House and the Altamont program along Duane Avenue. Neither organization has returned messages seeking comment on this story.
But Saccocio said City Mission staff and county officials have determined that only 15 beds can be safely accommodated due to security protocols made necessary by the virus. Thirteen of those beds were occupied Tuesday night when temperatures dropped to 22 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.
Demand tends to increase as temperatures drop, said Saccocio, who noted that the City Mission had never been concerned about sleeping space in the years leading up to the pandemic.
“That was almost all it took,” he said. “We would just continue to open rooms and put people in. “
But with social distancing and other security protocols in place to reduce the spread of the virus, he said there were real concerns about the ability to accommodate everyone, especially since the variant omicron continues to spread. Still, Saccocio said that all who come to the shelter to seek refuge will be accommodated in one way or another.
The county currently has 40 Code Blue beds and plans to add four more beds later this season. That’s up from last year, when the county added 23 beds to meet social distancing requirements, bringing the total number of beds at the time to 38.
The beds complement the resources available at county shelters, according to Erin Roberts, a county spokesperson.
“People who come to a shelter are provided with regularly available accommodation as capacity permits,” she said in an email. “Code Blue beds are used if the normal capacity has been reached. ”
The county has also stepped up vaccination efforts at the City Mission and has taken steps to ensure individuals can be properly quarantined without disrupting services, Roberts said.
On Tuesday, Saccocio said the City Mission’s 75-bed men’s shelter is at full capacity and its women’s and children’s shelter, which can accommodate up to 30 people, is still full.
He said fewer people had used the hosting services likely due to concerns about the virus. The problem was more pronounced last year, but it’s undoubtedly carried over to this year, especially as cases increase due to the omicron variant.
The number of reported cases has increased in recent weeks, surpassing records set over the past winter. The state reported more than 74,000 new cases on Wednesday, including 1,654 in the capital region. Schenectady County has reported an average positive test rate of 9.3% over the past seven days, the equivalent of 74.5 cases per 100,000 population, according to state data.
“I would say it was more pronounced last year when we were all like ‘what is this?’,” Saccocio said. “That being said, I have no doubt that there are people who would otherwise come to the shelter who don’t come now because they hear about these peaks and they feel it’s not safe for them to. do it.”
Those who come to the Code Blue shelter spend a night in an isolation room, away from the dozens of residents who occupy the City Mission dormitories and transitional accommodation units.
From there, fully vaccinated people are free to move into dormitories while unvaccinated people must test negative before being allowed to do the same. Those who test positive are transferred to a quarantine room, which is housed in one of the many transitional accommodations left vacant in the event of an outbreak.
But with the rise of the virus, testing has become more difficult to secure, and Saccocio is worried about what will happen if testing cannot be completed in a timely manner.
He said individuals would likely have to stay in the isolation room until a test can be obtained, which would strain the City Mission’s already limited resources.
The City Mission serves a mix of vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals, which Saccocio estimated to be around 50-50. A weekly vaccination clinic is held at the City Mission, which he says has been well attended.
Still, the City Mission has seen a number of COVID outbreaks, particularly with the onset of the colder months, according to Saccocio, who said individuals have already been quarantined this season.
“It seems like a seasonal problem, but it’s a serious problem, especially now with the highest cases,” he said.
Treat the problem
The City Mission has a number of vacant transitional housing to accommodate quarantines, but empty rooms mean fewer beds for others.
“If it’s an empty space then no one is sleeping in it, but if you don’t have an empty space you have no flexibility when people test positive,” he said.
But even with the empty space, the City Mission was forced to move several people from transitional housing units to local hotels in order to provide additional quarantine quarters following an outbreak that affected around 15 residents. last winter.
And with the spread of omicron, Saccocio fears similar steps may be taken again this year.
“We haven’t been that tough yet, but we’ll see what the future holds,” he said.
Roberts, a county spokesperson, said the county has made arrangements to ensure individuals can be quarantined without reducing the number of available beds, and has the testing capacity to accommodate individuals coming to the shelter. Steps have also been taken to step up vaccination efforts.
“We have the capacity to test and offer POD vaccines on-site through our public health department,” she said. “In the event that someone is positive at a Code Blue shelter, the county has made arrangements for the person to take shelter in place. If the rooms are full, the county has contracted for additional resources that can be used without reducing bed capacity. “
Meanwhile, Saccocio said the City Mission has adapted to the pandemic as the situation unfolds, and will do so again if necessary.
One thing, he said, will not change.
“The doors remain open and we will be available to people,” he said.
Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: 518-410-5117 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @ChadGArnold.
More from The Daily Gazette:
Categories: News, Schenectady County