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Downtown homeless shelter in Chilliwack hit with dozens of COVID-19 cases

Outbreak sees 27 residents and 12 staff testing positive for COVID-19 at the Portal
The Portal homeless shelter in downtown Chilliwack is dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak, with 27 residents and 12 staff having tested positive for the virus last week. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)

The Portal homeless shelter in downtown Chilliwack has been hit with dozens of confirmed COVID-19 cases.

“At this point we are dealing with an official outbreak,” said Bill Raddatz, executive director of Ruth and Naomi’s Mission, which runs The Portal on Yale Road near Williams Street.

On-site testing by Fraser Health saw 27 shelter residents testing positive for COVID-19 on Thursday, Dec. 31. Twelve staff members at the Portal have also tested positive.

That represents about 60 per cent of shelter’s residents, and staff infected by the virus.

“We realized last week we could be facing something dire,” Raddatz said.

They started reaching out to Fraser Health and BC Housing, as well as City of Chilliwack officials after Christmas, after a few staff members fell ill. There were daily conference calls on the best way to manage the COVID-19 outbreak at the shelter, and keep it open.

It was decided a community isolation facility would be established at the Travelodge on Yale Road West for vulnerable shelter residents to quarantine and recover. Six rooms were rented to relocate residents who tested positive for COVID-19, with three to a room.

“As it sits now there are 21 shelter residents in isolation,” Raddatz said.

They’ve reserved spaces for 12 more.

Mass testing of those remaining at the shelter took place on Jan. 4 and Jan. 5, Raddatz said.

Regarding some of the complaints they’ve been receiving from their neighbours, about the lack of mask-wearing by residents, or distancing, Raddatz pointed out that the rules and COVID-19 protocols are firmly in place at the Portal.

“But we are dealing with a population that does things their own way. It’s been very tough for staff to implement the protocols.”

In November all the residents were issued scarf type masks, and asked to comply with all health protocols including hand-washing.

“The decision to follow them ultimately lies with the individual,” Raddatz said. “Sure we can deny services if they are belligerent. But if we put them out on the streets, they’ll just use more, and petty crime increases. They become a risk to the greater population, so we’ve been trying to manage.”

It’s hard to say what caused this recent outbreak, he said. It came as a “shock” after managing to keep the virus at bay for so long, and they figure it may have been on Christmas Eve when they had so many people dropping donations off, people coming in, and out.

The agencies have been working closely since before the outbreak was declared at the Portal.

“We are working diligently together to keep this under control.”

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Jennifer Feinberg

About the Author: Jennifer Feinberg

I have been a Chilliwack Progress reporter for 20+ years, covering the arts, city hall, as well as Indigenous, and climate change stories.
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