Fraser Valley homeless shelter declares COVID-19 outbreak after 25 clients diagnosed

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Fraser Health has declared an outbreak of COVID-19 at a shelter for people who are homeless in Chilliwack, B.C., after more than three dozen people tested positive for the illness.

The health authority on Monday said 25 clients and 12 staff at The Portal shelter have been diagnosed with the disease.

"Fraser Health is screening staff and clients, and case and contact management are ongoing. Those identified as cases and close contacts have been instructed to self-isolate. Harm reduction and social work support is being offered onsite and to clients isolating off-site," the health authority said in a statement.

The Portal, run by Ruth and Naomi's Mission (Ran Mission), opened in the city's downtown core in 2018. The 24/7 facility has 48 beds for people who are over the age of 19.

A spokesperson for the organization running the shelter said Monday the number of test-positive guests had risen from 25 to 27. Bill Raddatz, executive director of Ruth and Naomi's Mission, said "it all started" with cases on Christmas Eve and peaked just before New Year's Eve.

Raddatz says the virus managed to get into the facility despite masks and other safety protocols.

"We actually were doing very good up until Christmas and then all hell broke loose," he said.

He said staff do not know how the virus got into the shelter.

Nearly 60 per cent of residents and staff have been affected by the outbreak.

Raddatz said staff who had been off for the holidays readily came in to work as sick staff members went home to self-isolate.

"Everybody just came to the place and did what they could do."

RAN Mission has been managing an isolation centre out of the Travelodge Hotel in Chilliwack for any clients testing positive for COVID-19. Raddatz said, to date, everyone who is ill has been relocated to the hotel.