First two homeless Minnesotans test positive for COVID-19

A homeless man sits on Broad Street in Richmond, Va., March 18, 2020. (Parker Michels-Boyce for the Virginia Mercury)

Two people experiencing homelessness tested positive for COVID-19, the Minnesota Department of Health confirmed Friday.

Both individuals live in Hennepin County but don’t appear to be connected. One person is in their 50s and the other is a young adult over 18 years old.

Neither are in critical condition and both are in isolation.

Around 260 homeless people have moved into rooms in three hotels leased by Hennepin County. Of those, 15 people are in isolation either with COVID-19 symptoms or confirmed cases. Around 250 people have been moved into hotel rooms because they are at especially high risk of becoming very sick if infected.

A local health care provider alerted state officials on Wednesday, according to Blair Harrison of the Department of Health’s homeless COVID-19 response team.

One person was living in a shelter. Harrison said fewer than 20 people in that shelter have potentially been exposed and all those people are practicing social distancing and monitoring their symptoms.

Shelters are ripe vectors for the coronavirus because social distancing is virtually impossible, bathrooms are shared by dozens of people and personal protective equipment is hard to come by. Many shelters are now relying on local distilleries for hand sanitizer.

The other individual was living outside. Harrison said MDH has struggled to identify who that person may have come in contact with, but they are working with local outreach groups.

“We’ve had a state interagency team that’s been preparing for this for quite some time now,” Harrison said. “Our response is to continue doing what we’ve been planning to do. We are working closely with outreach providers to make sure that mitigation strategies are being employed before a case occurs, so social distancing, thorough hand washing and good disinfecting and cleaning of the facility.”

The city of Minneapolis and Hennepin County have paid for public handwashing stations and portable toilets around the downtown area.

This story is developing and will be updated.