Homeless shelter awaits COVID-19 test results; residents 'shelter in place'

OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) -- It’s a struggle going on across the nation as shelters try to figure out how to let the homeless in while keeping the coronavirus out

It's a nationwide struggle playing out right here in Omaha as shelters try to figure out ways to let the homeless in while keeping coronavirus out.

“As of last night at 7 o’clock, if you’re leaving our facility, you must have a designated place that’s approved that you’re going (to),” said Candace Gregory, President and CEO of Open Door Mission, one of the Metro’s largest homeless shelters.

She said sheltering in place is the best move to help keep everyone safe.

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“We don’t want our guests out wandering the streets touching things, coming in contact with people,” said Gregory. “Because then they’re going to carry it back to us and we have 917 safe shelter beds.”

Thankfully, some of those beds are in sectioned-off rooms; that’s where two guests are quarantined right now, waiting for the results of COVID-19 tests.

“We have two in 'yellow' right now, two right now,” said Gregory, referring to a color-coded system being used to track people’s symptoms. Colored cards on room doors indicate the person's status.

“Yellow’s caution — that means the person has actually had a test for COVID-19 or some other medical test that could be contagious. And so, yellow is cautionary,” Gregory said. “We can’t serve you without our PPE equipment on.”

The goal is to avoid a red card, meaning the person inside has tested positive for COVID-19.

“In the 26 years I’ve been here at the Open Door Mission, it’s uncharted waters for me as a leader,” noting the need for donations is skyrocketing.

“I’ve been ordering close to $2,700 a week in medical supplies, so these are things we did not budget for,” Gregory said.

They’re also in need of over-the-counter medications, everything from cough drops to alcohol-free cough syrup.

“All the things that you would stock in your medicine cabinet — maybe just pick up one or two items for us as well,” Gregory said.

The area's largest homeless shelter, Siena Francis House, is not sheltering-in place-at this time, but are taking other precautionary measures. They have also designated a wing in one of their buildings downtown for quarantine.

One guest is currently in isolation there and another tested negative for COVID-19.