Coronavirus News: Newark begins testing homeless population for COVID-19

NEWARK, New Jersey (WABC) -- Newark began testing its homeless population for COVID-19 Monday and has accommodations ready to quarantine anyone who tests positive.

The testing is being conducted at an airport hotel with which the city partnered last month as part of the Mayor Ras Baraka's $1 million investment in rapid, short-term housing for Newark's most vulnerable residents.

That initiative was designed to get residents without permanent addresses in safe quarters to help slow the person-to-person spread of the coronavirus among those living outdoors and the people with whom they come in contact.

"This was a critical part of our strategy," Baraka said. "We had to get our residents without addresses off the street and inside for their own safety and the safety of others. We were able to encourage many of them to come indoors, and today we start testing those who have so far been asymptomatic, to gather more data about how this disease has spread."

All 182 residents at the hotel will be offered tests.

There will be testing at another homeless shelter Wednesday, and eventually, residents at all 21 shelters will be offered tests.

The testing will be done by the city's Department of Health and Wellness Community, under the direction of Dr. Mark Wade, the head of the department.

Dr. Wade estimates there are about 2,200 homeless in Newark, 1,700 of whom have been sheltered daily.

"I think we have collectively been successful in helping these residents without addresses to understand the gravity of the COVID-19 crisis and are getting them to safety, which is not always an easy thing to do," Dr. Wade said. "This has been a novel, life-saving approach and I don't know of another major city in the country that has done this."

He said the city will utilize a less intrusive nasal swabbing method, and once the results are back, anyone who has tested positive will be quarantined for 14 days under medical supervision unless they need to be hospitalized.

Once free from quarantine, they will return to their original shelters.

This initiative is collaboratively supported by Salvation Army, Bridges Inc. Outreach and Engagement, the Newark Homeless Coalition, the Essex Continuum of Care and the Newark Homeless Commission.

Dr. Wade said the city's Contact Tracing Task Force work will handle any new cases from the homeless testing, to try to follow the patterns of where they have been and with whom they have had contact.

"This is what we need to truly understand this disease, how it is spread and what we must continue to do to stop it," Baraka said. "Contract tracing is one of the most important weapons we have."

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