Multnomah County Sees First Positive COVID-19 Cases In Region’s Homeless Population

By Rebecca Ellis

Two homeless individuals in Multnomah County have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the county’s public health department. 

A county spokesperson confirmed Tuesday that of the 276 confirmed COVID-19 cases within Multnomah County, two cases involved unhoused individuals. These are the first positive cases within the county’s homeless population, which is estimated to be about 4,000 people. 

The county is not currently releasing information about whether the people were living in the region’s shelter system or elsewhere. 

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The county’s homeless population is believed to be particularly vulnerable to a coronavirus outbreak. Many live in crowded shelters and campsites where social distancing can be difficult. The population leans older and many have chronic medical conditions – both factors that put people at higher risk for experiencing more severe symptoms after contracting COVID. And sinks for handwashing can be hard to come by.

Since the first case of the virus was confirmed in Oregon in early March, county officials have been working to mitigate the potentially devastating impact an outbreak of COVID-19 would have amongst the vulnerable population.  

More motel vouchers have been made available, so shelter providers can isolate sick and vulnerable people. Portable handwashing stations and toilets have cropped up across the city. Most significantly, the county has converted the Oregon Convention Center and two community centers into temporary shelters to carve out more space for residents. They’ve also opened up one hotel and one motel for people experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 who have not yet tested positive. 

Neither of these facilities, intended for anyone in the region’s shelter system who needs to be isolated, have seen an overwhelming number of referrals, according to county spokesperson Denis Theriault. Of the 81 beds available in the converted Jupiter Hotel, about 30 had been filled. Eight had been filled in the newly-opened motel on Portland’s east side.

“This is not an out of character uptick,” Theriault said of the two positive cases. “There’s a reason we’ve taken the steps we’ve taken.”

 The cases were first reported by The Oregonian/OregonLive.