Sun staff reports

A guest of the Catholic Charities Men’s Shelter in Syracuse has tested positive for COVID-19, and four guests and two staff members are being quarantined and monitored for symptoms of the novel coronavirus.

The Onondaga County Health Department notified the shelter May 15 that a guest had tested positive for COVID-19, according to Michael F. Melara, executive director of Catholic Charities of Onondaga County.

The 99-bed shelter was closed for about 11 hours, Melara told the Sun by email May 18. During that time, staff worked with the health department to identify individuals who needed to be quarantined, some 50 residents were moved to a confidential location downtown, and the shelter was deep cleaned. The shelter reopened about 10:30 p.m. May 15.

The guest who tested positive was at a Syracuse hospital May 15 and will not return to the shelter until he is no longer contagious, Melara explained. Shelter staff have not had contact with him since his admission and do not have access to any medical information, he said.

The four guests who were in contact with the sick guest are being quarantined in a confidential location arranged by Onondaga County, and other agencies are providing food and supplies to these individuals, Melara said.

The two staff members are quarantined at their homes. They are eligible for 80 hours of emergency paid sick leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, Melara said.

Everyone quarantined is being monitored by the health department for the 14-day quarantine period, Melara said. They have also been tested for the virus and the agency recently learned that the tests for the four guests were negative. “We’re still awaiting the test results of our staff, but, as far as I know, none of the staff who are being quarantined are symptomatic,” he said.

Two men living at a Rescue Mission dormitory died last month and several other guests were diagnosed with COVID-19, according to news accounts. Advocates and human services have said the global health crisis threatens people who are homeless because they tend to have underlying conditions that make them vulnerable or live in shelters that make social distancing difficult.

Melara, who oversees six Catholic Charities offices that serve more than 100,000 people a year, has called safety of the Men’s Shelter a top concern during the pandemic. “I believe the fact that we had a well-articulated plan for both staff and guests went a long way in reducing chaos and anxiety,” he said. “We’re very blessed to have a competent and caring staff who did an excellent job in a difficult situation.”

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