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Multnomah County sees first cases of coronavirus in homeless population

The housing status of coronavirus patients is important because officials worry that people who live in harsh conditions could be more likely to die from the virus.
Credit: Mark Graves, The Oregonian/OregonLive
Raven Drake and Tina Drake, volunteers on the Street Roots Coronavirus Team, have built a tent within a small camp specifically designed to help those who may have health needs.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Two homeless people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Multnomah County, bringing the virus to one of the most vulnerable populations in Oregon.

The county public health department confirmed the cases Tuesday, but did not immediately provide details about when the results were reported.

Salem reported Oregon’s first case of coronavirus in a homeless person on March 26, according to the Salem Reporter.

The housing status of coronavirus patients is important because officials worry that people who live in harsh conditions could be more likely to die from the virus. People with little to no income and no place to cook are also more likely to be in large gathering spaces to get food and other services.

It is not immediately apparent where the infected people were living, but officials have also worried that the virus could move through homeless shelters quickly.

Multnomah County has opened nearly 400 extra shelter beds in community centers and the Oregon Convention Center to allow social distancing in shelters.

Outreach workers have distributed hygiene kits and the city of Portland has installed hand-washing stations around the city.

A shelter for homeless people experiencing symptoms of coronavirus but who haven’t tested positive opened last week in the Jupiter Hotel with 12 people. Officials said they expect to eventually use all 81 rooms.

The city-county Joint Office of Homeless Services also plans to open a shelter for people who tested positive for COVID-19 but don’t have a place to recover.

The county did not disclose where the two positive cases were currently staying, but hospitals and homeless service providers have been given broad authority and funding to pay for hotel rooms for people who are not sick enough to stay in a hospital but need a safe place to recuperate.

-- Molly Harbarger | mharbarger@oregonian.com | 503-294-5923 | @MollyHarbarger

This article was originally published by The Oregonian/OregonLive, one of more than a dozen news organizations throughout the state sharing their coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak to help inform Oregonians about this evolving health issue.

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