Sarah Pratt, a Community Concepts Wellness Sherter attendant, walks across the basketball court at the Lewiston Armory on April 22 — the day it opened as a emergency homeless shelter. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

LEWISTON — Despite a positive case of COVID-19, officials operating the city’s emergency wellness shelter are confident the necessary precautions are in place to limit further spread among the city’s most vulnerable population.

Following the disclosure Sunday that a former guest had tested positive for COVID-19, Community Concepts CEO Shawn Yardley said there has been “valid concern” from the public regarding the potential for a larger outbreak, given similar situations in Portland and Bangor.

Yardley said Wednesday that in an ideal world, everyone would have access to housing in order to shelter in place, but the 24-hour armory shelter is providing a place where the homeless population can practice social distancing, with more access to meals, masks and other services.

“We believe the protocols have stood up well,” he said. “Obviously we don’t hope that anyone ever tests positive for this virus, but the screening we had set up caught that.”

Yardley said the individual who later tested positive did not pass the mandatory health screening and temperature check conducted twice a day at the shelter, and was referred to a temporary Preble Street location in Portland that he said is more equipped to handle presumptive cases.

Since then, the organization has attempted to identify those who may have come in contact with the individual, and has helped secure other housing arrangements for quarantine purposes.

The organization is still awaiting additional test results for the people identified, and Yardley said Community Concepts will issue more news releases based on the results. He said the individuals have been asked to quarantine for two weeks regardless of the test results.

If more positive cases are found, he said it may be encouraged that the shelter conduct universal testing, if the tests are available.

Mayor Mark Cayer said Wednesday that had the individual “been out in the community fending for himself or herself our community would have been at much greater risk.”

During Wednesday’s daily CDC briefing, Dr. Nirav Shah reported that the shelter was not considered an outbreak.

Cayer said with community spread identified in Androscoggin County, “the virus can show up anyplace.”

“Some really important work is happening at the temporary wellness shelter,” he said Wednesday. “Not only are they providing some very basic necessities, they are also trying to connect folks to services that could assist them in securing stable housing.”

“I appreciate the work of the temporary shelter staff, whose work is protecting our entire community — just one more reason Maine infection numbers remain manageable,” Cayer added.

Yardley visited the shelter Tuesday, speaking with staff and some guests, who he said were all practicing social distancing.

“I truly believe we are meeting our mission,” he said. “We’re doing everything the CDC recommends.”

Each guest is given a mask upon arrival, and Yardley said the number of beds and meal tables allow proper distancing. While protocols allow for beds to be placed 6 feet apart, they are closer to 10 feet, he said.

The 60-bed shelter has been operating near capacity since last week, with Yardley stating Wednesday that the guest population has been hovering between 50 and 55 people.

While the shelter is expected to be operational until at least June 30, Community Concepts and MaineHousing, which is funding the effort, and other stakeholders plan to reassess the community need as it gets closer to that date to determine whether to extend the timeline.

The employees are committed through June 30, Yardley said.


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