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Costa Mesa bridge shelter halts new admissions as first virus cases identified

Costa Mesa's new 70-bed permanent bridge shelter opened to clients in April 2021.
Costa Mesa’s new 70-bed bridge shelter opened to clients in April amid the pandemic. Yet, until recently, no coronavirus cases had been identified.
(File Photo)

For the first time since the pandemic began, the novel coronavirus that can cause COVID-19 has been detected inside a Costa Mesa homeless facility, causing a temporary suspension of new admissions at the Airway Avenue bridge shelter, city officials confirmed.

Assistant City Manager Susan Price said Wednesday one client at the facility — where 36 individuals currently reside — initially tested positive for the coronavirus in August.

“We test both the shelter staff and clients every Wednesday,” Price said. “If we come up with any positive tests, we have to get two weeks of no positive results in order to resume intakes.”

A room at Costa Mesa's bridge shelter, which opened to patients in April 2021.
A room at Costa Mesa’s bridge shelter, which opened to patients in April 2021, is currently at half capacity, according to city officials.
(File Photo)

The infected client was sent to isolate at a nearby motel as part of a county-run program that provides non-congregate emergency shelter for impacted and at-risk homeless residents during the pandemic.

However, before the Costa Mesa shelter could get two infection-free weeks under its belt, five more clients tested positive by late September. Price said a few others were advised by contact tracers to self-quarantine due to possible exposure.

So far, seven shelter residents have been isolated as clients and staff continue to undergo weekly testing. It is unclear whether transmission occurred inside the shelter or if the virus may have been brought to the facility from outside.

Before the first case was identified, the city had not logged a single incidence of the coronavirus among shelter clients, even after opening the 12,285-square-foot facility in April.

Costa Mesa's efforts to place individuals into permanent and stable housing are continuing, despite recent virus infections.
Despite the recent discovery of coronavirus at Costa Mesa’s bridge shelter, the city’s efforts to place individuals into permanent and stable housing are continuing, Assistant City Manager Susan Price told the city council Tuesday.
(Screenshot by Sara Cardine)

“The fact that we’ve had some folks turn up positive, that’s just part of the deal,” Price said Wednesday. “Despite your best effort, somebody is going to come down with it.”

The individuals in isolation may be cleared to return later this week to the facility, where staff and clients were tested on Wednesday and waiting to find out their results and whether the intake process could resume.

Through an inter-city agreement, the 70-bed bridge shelter at 3175 Airway Ave. traditionally accepts unhoused individuals from both Costa Mesa and Newport Beach. Census figures indicate, as of Tuesday, 15 of the 36 individuals being housed on site were referred from Newport Beach.

Price said while there is no policy requiring shelter clients to be vaccinated, local nonprofits and the county’s public health department have appeared regularly to offer testing, vaccination and education.

“We’ve protected everyone — not everyone, but just about everyone,” Price said. “That’s as good as it gets in a global pandemic.”

Since the bridge shelter opened in April, 12 clients have transitioned to stable or permanent housing, while another 20 individuals have been housed through the efforts of a street outreach team.

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