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Staff Member Tests Positive for COVID-19 at ServiceNet Shelter
By Brittany Polito, iBerkshires Staff
12:31AM / Wednesday, January 20, 2021
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Staff and guests at the shelter at the former St. Joe's high school will be tested on Wednesday for COVID-19 after a staff member tested positive.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — A staff member has tested positive for COVID-19 at ServiceNet's winter homeless shelter in the former St. Joseph High School.

On Monday morning, ServiceNet became aware that the shelter employee produced a positive test.

The employee was asymptomatic and had not been to work since Wednesday of last week, Senior Vice President of Shelter & Housing Jay Sacchetti said.

ServiceNet has an emergency protocol that occurs in the case that a visitor or employee tests positive for the virus in any of their group homes or shelters.  

The shelter did not shut down for the night, but went into quarantine and will test all employees and guests Wednesday. Since learning of the positive case, the shelter has been open 24/7, while it is normally only open around the clock on weekends and holidays.

Sacchetti noted that though they were quarantining, they could not force guests to stay at the shelter.

New admissions to the shelter are on pause because of the positive case. Local advocates say a few homeless individuals were placed in a difficult situation after being denied entry to the shelter in winter conditions.

ServiceNet staff has been undergoing vaccinations since last Saturday and will continue into this week as they are in the phased distribution with health-care providers and congregate care workers.  

The shelter has been on pins and needles, Sacchetti said in regard to this time. He said the facility was sanitized for two days and feels that the high ceiling and vast layout of the former high school makes the shelter a place where people can spread out to prevent transmission.

"Hopefully that continues to provide the protection we need to keep a lot of people from becoming infected," Sacchetti said. "It's been remarkable how consistent the guests and staff are masking up and checking things, if somebody is symptomatic we have tests that we can do."

ServiceNet's Pittsfield shelter has been qualified for rapid COVID-19 testing, which is a very simple test that gives an accurate record. If someone is symptomatic, Sacchetti said, they will be sent to the isolation hotel at the Hilton Garden Inn on the Pittsfield Lenox Road to quarantine.

Sacchetti said there are many of the same people who return to the 50-bed shelter.

"We have a steady group and then there's this kind of five to eight beds that turn over quite often," he said. "People come when they need to come."

Many unsheltered folks reportedly have cell phones, which makes it easier for them to be contacted by the shelter. Sacchetti said case managers know where to find regular guests if they need to be found.

He said ServiceNet has been able to keep COVID-19 numbers low at its multiple facilities. About two months ago, there was a case with a mother and daughter who tested positive for the virus and who were quarantined in an apartment owned by ServiceNet.

"We have the ability to kind of really separate people," Sacchetti said. "And our other shelters in Greenfield and Northampton have been relatively free, we had one case in Northampton and they went to the isolation hotel and we tested everybody and everybody else was negative."

Guests have reportedly returned to the shelter after hearing of the positive case. Sacchetti said they are all interested in getting tested Wednesday.

A temporary warming shelter in conjunction with the Christian Center is still in the works. This daytime shelter will be placed on the Christian Center;s property and offer warmth during the hours that the St. Joe's shelter is closed.

Sacchetti said it may be ready in the next week or two, but he is not sure where the Christian Center is at with it.

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