B’ham homeless shelter reports no positive COVID-19 cases during the pandemic

Firehouse Shelter on how they've avoided outbreaks

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - COVID-19 is a deadly virus that spreads through respiratory droplets, but it has somehow bypassed a Birmingham homeless shelter.

Firehouse Ministries Homeless Shelter reports no cases of COVID-19 during the pandemic. Social worker Anne Rygiel said the shelter not having any positive COVID-19 cases was not by luck, but due to methodical practices from quarantine to testing and social responsibility.

For a month and a half, William “Billy” Harris of Mobile has called the emergency shelter home.

“I feel very stable,” said Harris.

Harris said he felt stable in spite of COVID-19.

“I had to go through the hospital to get a COVID test,” he explained.

In fact, everyone who enters the facility for shelter was required to get tested for the virus, according to Rygiel.

“Everyone has to wear masks. Everyone has to social distance,” Rygiel explained.

They also must quarantine for 14 days.

Rygiel said the shelter also operates at 60% capacity and encourages people to stay there, instead of leaving during the day.

“I don’t think it’s so much luck, but I think it has a lot to do with processes and a dedicated core staff that understands the importance of making sure everything is done right to keep people healthy and safe,” Rygiel said.

People like Harris, who for the first time in 2 ½ years of living on the street, found a job and planned for a better future.

“I thank the Firehouse for allowing me to stay here and get my life back on track,” Harris said.

Rygiel said their efforts to test everyone was made possible through a partnership with the Jefferson County Department of Health and a network of other shelters.

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