Published Tuesday, March 31, 2020 | 1:20 p.m.
Updated Tuesday, March 31, 2020 | 6:10 p.m.
As the number of coronavirus cases in Southern Nevada continues to increase, hospitals are starting to encounter a new problem: How does a contagious homeless patient self-quarantine after being discharged?
An isolation and quarantine facility now under construction that will be able to house up to 350 homeless people could be part of the solution. Located at the Cashman Center in downtown Las Vegas, the complex is expected to open late Monday.
Clark County is overseeing and paying for the $2 million facility and the city of Las Vegas will handle operations once it is running. Operational costs are not yet known, but officials hope they will obtain federal funding through the coronavirus relief bill, the CARES Act, said Las Vegas Ward 5 Councilman Cedric Crear.
The fenced-in tent facility will be split into different areas depending on one’s COVID-19 status and symptoms, said Tim Burch, human services administrator for the county. The “quarantine tent” will be for people who have symptoms but might not have COVID-19, Burch said. An “isolation tent” will be used for those who test positive but have no symptoms, while another isolation tent will be for individuals who test positive and have symptoms, he said.
The facility will be staffed with medical professionals and volunteers from medical schools.
“The idea is when you come here, you get isolated or quarantined, and we have the facilities you need,” Burch said.
Vision Building Systems, a local contractor, began construction on the facility Tuesday morning, using the same materials as were used for the World Market Center’s convention display area. The Cashman facility will be in use for the next 90 days, or for however long the pandemic lasts, Burch said.
Called the ISO-Q Complex, the complex will not serve as a typical homeless shelter. The goal is to only admit people by referral from either medical professionals or homeless service providers based on their symptoms or the results of a test, Burch said.
Last week, an individual who stayed at Catholic Charities and the Courtyard Homeless Resource Center tested positive for COVID-19, forcing Catholic Charities to temporarily close. That is the only known homeless individual to have contracted coronavirus in Clark County, but Burch suspects the number of homeless people infected is higher since the homeless are less able to practice social distancing.
Clark County’s homeless population also has a high rate of chronic diseases and other preexisting health conditions, putting those who contract COVID-19 at greater risk of complications, Burch said.
“That’s why we know we need this facility up as soon as possible,” he said.
Officials have secured the necessary personal protective gear for those working on the site, said Lisa Morris Hibbler, director of community services for the city. Homeless individuals admitted will be screened for symptoms, and officials hope to have COVID-19 tests to conduct on-site as well, although testing has been limited across the valley, Morris Hibbler said.
The goal is to “overstaff” the facility in anticipation of any needs that come up, Burch said, while protecting all staff and volunteers. Social distancing will be practiced throughout the complex, and there will be no communal dining, officials said.
“We have to make sure in working both with the health district and our medical professionals that (the tents) are set up and established in a way that they don’t cross-contaminate,” Morris Hibbler said.
For the past three weeks, the Clark County Department of Social Services has been looking for ways to help homeless people with COVID-19 symptoms self-isolate or quarantine, Burch said. The department has contacted owners of closed hotels and motels to try to lease rooms for homeless individuals but has not had any success in securing rooms, he said.
“The difficulty we’re having right now is finding hotel-motel owners who will go all the way through the process of leasing to the county so we can place individuals who are recovering there,” Burch said. “We’ve been very close a couple of times, but concerns from those business owners have overtaken them.”
Even with the construction of the ISO-Q Complex, the county still hopes to find hotels willing to take in homeless people in need of a self-isolation room, he said.