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City Reports Positive COVID Cases at Westside Emergency Housing Center

17 individuals now in isolation and receiving medical care

Oct. 8, 2020

The City of Albuquerque today is reporting 17 COVID-19 cases at the Westside Emergency Housing Center (WEHC). The positive cases come amid a statewide spike in COVID-19 cases. Every individual who has tested positive is currently in isolation and receiving medical care for their symptoms.

“Our thoughts are with the individuals who tested positive, and we wish them a swift recovery,” stated Roger Ebner, Director of the Office of Emergency Management. “Thanks to the work of our staff and our partners early on in the pandemic, we had the appropriate processes in place to quickly identify these individuals, isolate them, and provide them with medical attention. We will continue to be diligent with contact tracing efforts to help minimize the spread of the virus. We are grateful that the number of cases in the homeless population have remained far lower here than in other cities, as well as far lower than predicted by national experts.”

Early on in the public health emergency, the National Alliance to End Homelessness estimated that approximately 649 sheltered individuals experiencing homelessness would become infected with COVID-19 in Bernalillo County. To date, City leaders have reported fewer than 20 cases since the start of the public health emergency thanks to quick work to establish sufficient protocols to care for this population seeking shelter.

Since March when the first positive COVID-19 case was detected in New Mexico, the City of Albuquerque established a working group with partner agencies to develop and implement plans to care for individuals experiencing homelessness. Under the guidance of Dr. Laura Chanchien Parajón of UNM Health Sciences Center, the City is screening every individual seeking to utilize the WEHC by taking temperatures and answering questions related to any recent symptoms. Anyone experiencing symptoms, exposed to someone with COVID, or traveled from a high risk area is immediately placed in isolation or quarantine and administered a COVID-19 test. Those who end up having a positive test continue their isolation in a non-congregate hotel setting to receive food, medical attention and time to recover.

The City has also established protocols for identifying vulnerable individuals, such as seniors and those with chronic medical conditions that put them at risk for severe COVID such as diabetes, hypertension, and chronic kidney disease, and offering them shelter in locations other than the WEHC. The goal is to help reduce the risk of COVID exposure for vulnerable individuals.

Each night, an average of 400 men, women and families utilize the services of WEHC. Since the Keller administration implemented the decision in March 2019, the WEHC converted from a “winter shelter” to being open 7 nights a week, year-round, and open all weekend. The Center remains open 24 hours a day, seven days a week for families during the public health emergency.

The Westside Emergency Housing Center located at 7440 Jim McDowell NW, is open to men, women and families experiencing homelessness in Albuquerque. While the WEHC is not currently taking new residents and transportation has been suspended through the weekend, individuals and families in need of assistance can call 768-HELP, 10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.

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Emergencies challenge the delivery and management of emergency public information, warning and emergency protective action notifications. The Albuquerque Joint Information Center (JIC) functions as a coordinated Albuquerque Metro Area public information system that will gather and analyze data related to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in New Mexico and serve as a source of accurate and comprehensive information.