SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — COVID-19 cases rose in Utah throughout January, posing a problem for people who are not sheltered and without medical place to isolate yourself.
United Way of Utah County’s Mountainland Continuum of Care program is a coalition of local nonprofit organizations and government agencies that work with the homeless population. Mountainland Project Coordinator Heather Hogue Tells KUER-FM their outreach workers are seeing more unprotected people infected with the virus in Utah County due to the omicron surge.
Over the past week she said she has been working to find places to isolate people. Hogue said she emails and calls trying to find out which agencies need funds to pay for hotel stays.
Hogue said they use their motel voucher system and the Utah County Isolation Center to treat people who are on the streets.
But there are some concerns, due to the advised isolation period. Unlike the general public — who are advised a five-day isolation period — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends unsheltered people stay away from others for a full 10 days. Hogue said it can get tricky.
“I believe we have the funding to get people to a safe place,” Hogue said. “It’s just the number of hotels available. What does the vacancy rate look like now? Are they ready for us?
She said people who are homeless and test positive for COVID can access services through their agency. Hogue said transportation is provided, as well as meals and basic amenities.
Other agencies, like Fourth Street Clinic, a community health center in Salt Lake City, recently received funding from Intermountain Healthcare to help with their COVID-19 efforts. They provided medical treatment to the homeless population with vaccines and isolation centers.
Janida Emerson, the clinic’s chief executive, said one of the challenges she faces is staffing.
“We all like other health care providers and have staffing issues,” she said. “We have lost a lot of our staff over the past year to burnout. It is therefore becoming increasingly difficult to be able to maintain operations in a way that we know will maximize patient and staff safety.
She also said they’ve seen a lot of vaccine hesitancy among the homeless population in Salt Lake, this is due to the trauma people have gone through in the past.
“It takes a lot of education and a lot of extra time to walk someone through their vaccination concerns,” she said. “Our vaccination rates are lower than those of the general population.”
So far, about 60% of all Utah residents have been fully immunized, according to the Utah Department of Health.