COVID surge complicates homeless protection efforts ahead of Ida

Mid-South

Reginald Lucas, 56, a homeless man living in a tent under an expressway, embraces a worker from New Orleans Mission, ahead of Hurricane Ida, in New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S. August 29, 2021. REUTERS/Marco Bello

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) — Alarmed aid workers raced to get New Orleans’ homeless off the streets on Sunday ahead of fast-moving Hurricane Ida, a complicated, last-minute push made all the more difficult by a severe outbreak of COVID-19 cases in the state.

At shelters, workers were giving masks to those brought in from the streets, while also checking temperatures and administering rapid COVID-19 tests. Per 100,0000 people, Louisiana is seeing the nation’s third-highest outbreak of the virus.

The fast-moving storm left little time to spare. Ida was set to make landfall in Louisiana as Category 4 hurricane later on Sunday, bringing flooding and winds of 150 mph to parts of the Gulf Coast.

Still, some homeless shelter residents were too fearful of catching COVID-19 in a crowded shelter to move indoors.

Greg King, 62, said he would rather risk being outside than contract the Delta variant. King was one of about a dozen homeless people under the Pontchartrain Expressway on Sunday morning.

“I got my shot but I’d rather not go to the shelter. All the guys in the shelter – they just don’t wear masks,” King said.

Jerry Ruffin, a manager at Ozanam Inn, a men’s shelter, said the facility currently housed 54 people, slightly more than half of its capacity.

“We’re accepting everyone that needs shelter,” Ruffin said.

The center had cut capacity as COVID-19 cases surged, but opened up more ahead of the storm.

New Orleans Mission, another shelter, was near its 225-person capacity and said the city had been bringing in residents.

Willie Hughes, 65, moved to New Orleans Mission on Friday, despite concerns about COVID-19.

“I still wear my mask just in case,” Hughes said. 

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