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Press Release: Private-public partnership launches testing for COVID-19 in homeless shelters in Maricopa County

Sonora Quest Laboratories, Community Solutions, Circle the City, Community Bridges, Inc., and Maricopa County spearhead testing of homeless populations for COVID-19
May 19, 2020
  • Sonora Quest Laboratories, national and local nonprofits, and Maricopa County have teamed up to initiate testing for a highly vulnerable population of people experiencing homelessness.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued recommendations that people in homeless shelters be tested for COVID-19, if there is capacity and tests available. 
  • Researchers have estimated that 40% of people experiencing homelessness could contract the virus, and that they are twice as likely to be hospitalized. 

PHOENIX, Ariz. — A group of local and national entities have announced an important partnership in Maricopa County to test highly vulnerable people experiencing homelessness for COVID-19, a critical need revealed by a recent study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Sonora Quest Labs donated 300 tests to Community Solutions, a national nonprofit that supports local efforts to end homelessness, to support efforts to test people experiencing homelessness in Maricopa County. Circle the City, a federally qualified health center that provides care for the homeless population, has been administering the tests and undertaking further assessments. Community Bridges, Inc., a homeless service provider, has ensured transportation for individuals tested and is working with other community partners to develop permanent housing plans for individuals being tested or in alternative care facilities.

“The Sonora Quest team has a history of collaboration and compassion to support Arizona communities through hours of volunteer work, frequent blood drives, and in-kind testing,” said David Dexter, President & CEO of Sonora Quest Laboratories. “When we have an opportunity to partner with our state’s outreach organizations and bring high-quality testing to our most vulnerable and underserved populations, we are proud to answer the call and make health care accessible.”

In Phoenix and Maricopa County, there are an estimated 7,000 people experiencing homelessness on any given night. Maricopa County and Phoenix has developed alternative care facilities and built additional shelter capacity throughout the county to aid in social distancing and has dedicated this resource to testing highly vulnerable individuals, those who would be most at-risk of complications from infection, and moving these individuals to a true safe short term shelter set up by Maricopa County and Public Health.

“The County High Risk Shelter is a powerful demonstration of how our community supports its most vulnerable people,” said Elizabeth daCosta, Senior Director of Housing and Community Integration Community Bridges, Inc. “It is a partnership with Maricopa County, Community Bridges, Circle the City, A New Leaf, and the Human Service Campus; organizations who came together, thought quickly, and worked tirelessly to develop a place of solace for high-risk adults who had no place to stay home. With the support of Community Solutions and Sonora Quest, we have been able to complete testing on members to confirm they are negative prior to assisting them with transitioning to the high-risk shelter for isolation. Community Bridges is providing ongoing supportive services to members in the shelter, identifying needs and striving towards helping them access permanent housing solutions. In the meantime, they are playing solitaire, monopoly, and enjoying the ability to remain safely indoors.”

Homelessness and COVID-19

The urgent need to test people experiencing homelessness has become evident among leading experts. A recent study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that people living in shelters can spread the virus at high rates, whether they are exhibiting symptoms or not. Other shelters across the country have reported high rates of positive test results for coronavirus. 

It notes that both the conditions of homelessness and common characteristics of people experiencing it exacerbates the risk of infection and the consequences. People experiencing homelessness are often older and have chronic health conditions that can leave them vulnerable to complications. As noted by the CDC study, homelessness shelters are not conducive for social distancing. 

In another analysis released in March, researchers from UPenn, UCLA, and Boston University estimated that 40% of people experiencing homelessness could contract the virus and, that they are twice as likely to be hospitalized. 

“Addressing the needs of people experiencing homelessness has always been a public health imperative. What this pandemic has done is lay this truth bare, as urgently and clearly as ever,” said Tamara Wright, Systems Transformation Advisor for Community Solutions. “We are grateful for the partners that have come together to initiate testing among this vulnerable population, which is needed to save lives and stop further spread.”

Testing for this population was already underway when the state kicked off its statewide “testing blitz” on May 2, which aims to cover more than 60,000 Arizona residents. 

“The generous donation of 300 test kits to Circle the City was just what was needed, at the right time,” said Bruce Liggett, Director, Maricopa County Human Services Department. “The test kits allowed vulnerable seniors and individuals with compromised health conditions to be tested prior to entering a safe alternative facility, ensuring the safety and health of all individuals at that facility. These test kits allowed the County and its partners to initiate testing protocols that will be used throughout the region.”

“Circle the City is grateful for not only the donated tests but also for the strength of partnerships during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Linda Ross, Chief Executive Officer at Circle the City. “We have collaborated with State, County and city personnel and now with Community Solutions and Sonora Quest Labs. We are united in the fight against the viral spread and employ the CDC-recommended guidelines in our care for the most vulnerable in our community.”

Media Contacts:

Community Solutions is a nonprofit that leads Built for Zero, a national initiative of 80 cities and counties that have committed to measurably ending homelessness, one population at a time. It is led by Community Solutions, a nonprofit that works to create a lasting end to homelessness that leaves no one behind. Using a data-driven methodology, these communities have changed how local homeless response systems work and the impact they can achieve. Twelve communities have reached functional zero, and 44 communities have achieved a measurable reduction. Rocket Mortgage by Quicken Loans is the leading sponsor of Built for Zero. Learn more at www.community.solutions or @BuiltforZero. 

Community Bridges, Inc. (CBI) is the premiere nonprofit fully integrated health care provider of substance use, behavioral health, and primary care programs in Arizona, including prevention, education and treatment using cutting-edge, nationally recognized, evidence-based models. CBI believes in maintaining the dignity of human life and knows recovery is possible! We are here to serve you.  For more information, visit us at www.CommunityBridgesAZ.org.  

Maricopa County Human Services Department We provide and coordinate essential support and services to vulnerable populations to enhance economic, educational, and social opportunities and strengthen communities. Learn more at www.maricopa.gov

Sonora Quest Laboratories Sonora Quest Laboratories, a joint venture between Banner Health and Quest Diagnostics (NYSE: DGX), is part of the nation’s largest integrated laboratory system with approximately 3,500 employees serving more than 26,000 patients every day throughout Arizona. Sonora Quest Laboratories is the market share leader in clinical laboratory testing in Arizona, performing nearly 90 million diagnostic tests per year. Sonora Quest Laboratories offers a local comprehensive test menu which encompasses routine, molecular, prescription drug monitoring, genetic/genomic, women’s health and pathology testing services.

Circle the City is a dynamic nonprofit community health organization dedicated to providing high quality, holistic healthcare to people experiencing homelessness in Maricopa County. Circle the City strives to meet people where they are, without judgement or bias, embracing a culture of dignity and respect for all patients, staff members, and community partners. Circle the City takes a holistic approach to healing, focusing on the important balance of physical, mental, and spiritual health, engaging all patients with the goal of not only providing excellent care but also of assisting them on their journey out of homelessness.  Learn more at www.circlethecity.org 

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