As part of Salem and the region’s collective response to the ongoing COVID-19 public health emergency, the Cities of Salem, Beverly, and Lynn have worked jointly with the support of the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA), North Shore Community Health, Lynn Community Health, the Northeast Homeland Security Regional Advisory Council (NERAC), and Lifebridge to establish a temporary quarantine location for the region’s homeless population to be kept safe during the emergency.
The site is located at the Salem High School field house on Willson Avenue and is opening the week of April 6th for the duration of the emergency. Residents served by Lifebridge, Riverhouse, and the Lynn Shelter Association will be located at the facility for their own protection and for the protection of the general population, to help slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Salem Police Chief Mary Butler has been working closely with Salem Fire Chief Gerry Giunta to head up this effort for Salem and has served as a key contact for shelter providers.
“While hundreds of thousands of residents across our three communities have the ability to shelter at home during this crisis, this smaller population of a few dozen individuals do not have that luxury,” said Mayor Kim Driscoll of Salem. “We have a shared responsibility to both them and to the rest of our constituents to meet this need thoughtfully, compassionately, and cooperatively.”
“Establishing a temporary quarantine location for the most vulnerable populations has been a shared priority of the Mayors of the North Shore since the onset of the COVID-19 crisis,” said Mayor Thomas McGee of Lynn. “I want to especially thank those from our communities who have put many hours of work into the planning and launching of this operation. Together, we will do everything we can to ensure that those who face housing insecurity, will have a dignified place to shelter, as they are affected by the spread of COVID-19.”
“We’ve all been working together to protect all our residents, including our most vulnerable who live in congregate settings like those housed in our shelters,” said Mayor Mike Cahill of Beverly. “This space at the Salem High School fieldhouse will provide critical protection for our homeless neighbors, allowing those possibly exposed to COVID-19 to self-quarantine in a safe space. I am grateful for Mayor Driscoll’s leadership and for great partners like Mayor McGee, the team at Lifebridge, and our state partners, among many. We are committed to supporting this effort in every way possible.”
Frequently Asked Questions
Why have a quarantine site and why doesn’t each City have its own?
Quarantine of the homeless population is not possible in the existing shelters given space limitations and the need for safe social distancing. Due to the limited availability of resources for quarantine sites, the determination was made to approach the challenge on a regional and cooperative basis.
Why is this facility in Salem and not in Lynn or Beverly?
The Salem site has the appropriate layout to meet the needs for this population, including suitable space for personal accommodations, health services, and isolation. The fieldhouse can be physically separated from the rest of the high school, has scalable space in the event operations need to expand, and is near North Shore Medical Center, should medical services from the hospital be urgently required.
Will there be infected people here?
This is a quarantine facility, not an isolation or medical facility. Individuals at the fieldhouse are those who have not tested positive for COVID-19 but may have been in proximity to those who have. Where other people in those circumstances can quarantine comfortably at home, these individuals do not have that option and would either be in a more dense shelter setting, where they risk exposing other guests and staff of the shelter, or simply out in the community, where they risk exposing more of the general population.
What happens if someone at the facility becomes sick with COVID-19?
If someone at the site tests positive for COVID-19 they will be transported by MEMA and the state Department of Public Health to one of the state’s homeless isolation facilities, the nearest of which is, currently, in Lexington. The City does not anticipate that anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 will remain at the fieldhouse. While they await transportation, these individuals will be separated from the rest of the facility’s population in a different room.
Who is going to staff this facility?
The staffing of this facility will be a combination of Emergency Medical Technicians from Cataldo Ambulance and the local homeless service provider shelter staff from the three communities. These employees may be further supported by social work students from Salem State University and other community members who have a social work background and/or experience in this field.
Will individuals at the facility have medical and supportive services?
Yes. This is a higher needs population than the general population and all the necessary services they would typically receive at their regular local shelter will be provided at the quarantine site. This includes behavioral health and other supportive services. These services will be provided by the same specialists who serve them in their regular local shelter location.
Can anyone walk in to the site?
No. All guests will be referred in through the local shelters and organizations who work directly with homeless individuals. People who simply show up will not be admitted.
How are these individuals being transported to the facility?
Each community is arranging transportation on its own with their shelter providers. Transportation will be carried out by small-capacity vehicles in order to maintain safe social distancing for all.
Will there be security at the facility?
Yes, local police departments will be providing appropriate monitoring and/or details to ensure the safety of both the general public and the quarantined residents.
If someone at the facility has the virus, will the fieldhouse be cleaned? How long would the virus last on the surfaces there?
Whether or not any individual at the facility tests positive for COVID-19, the entire building will be sanitized and disinfected after the quarantine period concludes. In addition to this, routine cleaning will take place throughout the facility’s use as a quarantine site. On most of the hard surfaces of the building, the COVID-19 virus could live for three to four days, if not treated; however, the plan is to treat all surfaces regularly. No School Department employees will be responsible for on-site cleaning or maintenance.
Are Salem taxpayers paying for this?
Any costs incurred to operate this site will be shared jointly by the three communities and then reimbursed by FEMA, due to the federal emergency declaration.
Will this quarantine site still be operational if/when school reopens?
No. Schools would only be reopened if there was no longer a public health risk from COVID-19. In that event, the quarantine site would also no longer be necessary and would be closed and its residents returned to their regular local shelter sites in the three communities.