Juneau begins testing homeless population for COVID-19

Two people and a dog curl up near a boiler room on Shattuck Way on Jan. 20, 2017 in downtown Juneau, Alaska. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

Individuals experiencing homelessness in Juneau can get tested for COVID-19 this week. 

The City and Borough of Juneau and its partners will have mobile testing tents in the parking lot of the Juneau Arts and Culture Center, or JACC, Tuesday and Wednesday from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Staff from Bartlett Regional Hospital and Capital City Fire/Rescue will take the samples. Lab results are expected by Friday or Saturday evening. 

City Housing Officer Scott Ciambor said staff at the cold weather shelter inside the JACC and other service providers will help get the word out to the homeless population.

“Since it’s been operating for, I guess, almost two months now, things have been pretty consistent and stable, and the general population kind of knows where the resources are,” Ciambor said. 

The shelter was originally scheduled to close last month, but the city extended its contract with St. Vincent de Paul Society to run the shelter until July. It’s open from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. 

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Service providers first raised concerns about the potential for COVID-19 to spread among the homeless in March. Since then, homeless individuals with any symptoms of COVID-19 have been referred to medical personnel for testing. Ciambor said no tests have come back positive.

Anyone with symptoms this week will go to the city quarantine facility at Centennial Hall until their results come back. The building will be divided into separate areas — quarantine for those awaiting results and medical isolation for anyone who tests positive. 

About 50 to 60 people stay in the cold weather shelter each night. Ciambor said they have seen a slight increase in overnight guests at the shelter lately, despite the recent opening of the new Mill campground

Other Juneau residents who want to get tested for COVID-19 should call the city hotline, 586-6000, to schedule an appointment at the city’s drive-up testing site.