PORTLAND, Maine — After a woman broke quarantine and a second guest at a homeless shelter tested positive for the coronavirus, the city opened the Portland Expo to members of its homeless population who must quarantine because of potential exposure to the virus.
Thirty-eight people spent Tuesday night at the makeshift shelter, Portland spokesperson Jessica Grondin said Wednesday. The guests were not symptomatic but were determined to have come into contact with at least one of the two people who tested positive and had stayed at its Oxford Street Shelter during the past two weeks.
The emergency measures show the immense strain the virus has had on city services, as officials try to convince people who are experiencing homelessness in Portland of the severity of the threat of infection. Grondin said Portland “is struggling to get shelter guests to take the pandemic seriously.”
Eight other shelter guests are also in isolation awaiting test results, City Manager Jon Jennings said Wednesday. Officials said Wednesday that as a temporary measure, city shelters would not admit individuals who are not on a list of roughly 600 who have checked in over the past 90 days.
While officials say that the city is having difficulty staffing its shelters, the Expo will be staffed around the clock. Many of those who have quarantined at the Expo over the past 24 hours have attempted to leave, Grondin said, and another dozen who officials identified as having been exposed have not reported anywhere.
“We have no ability to force anyone to stay,” Jennings said.
The private apartment units at the family shelter on Chestnut Street are being used as isolation spaces for people who are showing symptoms, are awaiting test results or have tested positive. They are not consistently monitored.
The woman, a 40-year-old from Massachusetts, was the first positive case in a shelter guest. She arrived in Maine on March 25 and stayed at Oxford Street until March 28. She was placed in the isolation space at the family shelter, and walked out on Tuesday afternoon in the interim between staff check-ups, which occur every 30 minutes.
The woman went to Amtrak station and took a train to Boston, Grondin said. Massachusetts police found her and took her to a Boston hospital this morning. Inquiries to Amtrak were not returned.
The second positive case was a 58-year-old man who arrived at the shelter on March 20 from San Francisco. He was put in quarantine in Portland on March 30 while he awaited test results and is being cooperative, city officials said.