UNH partners with state to test people at long-term care facilities, homeless shelters

At Cross Roads House in Portsmouth, EMTs are helping to test people staying at the homeless shelter for COVID-19.

The University of New Hampshire has partnered with the NH Department of Health and Human Services to provide COVID-19 testing for 30 long-term care facilities and shelters throughout the state.

The expanded testing began in late December and at Cross Roads House in Portsmouth, which provides shelter for the homeless, Executive Director Martha Stone said they use EMTs from the city’s fire department to help them in the efforts.

People staying at Cross Roads House on Lafayette Road are tested every Wednesday.

Stone said now that this partnership with UNH and NH DHHS has been put into place, she is more confident that they have the resources needed to identify people at the shelter who may be COVID-19 positive but asymptomatic.

Stone said they have had only two positive cases of COVID-19 infection since the pandemic began.

Stone and leaders at Housing Action NH have helped to spearhead the efforts to get weekly testing available for shelter residents.

“I have been, for months, working to find a way to bring testing into the shelter setting, not just for Cross Roads House, but across the state,” Stone said.

On Tuesday night, 74 individuals, six families and 15 children were sheltered by Cross Roads. Stone said they are still using a hotel partner to house some of these people so they can maintain guidelines set forth by officials at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Elissa Margolin is the director of Housing Action NH, a coalition of organizations united around a common vision that everyone benefits when all Granite Staters have an affordable place to call home.

Margolin said that at the beginning of the pandemic, they and their members turned their focus on how to best serve those in need of housing and the people who provide services to them.

“We quickly learned that testing was key to keeping people safe and allowing them to provide shelter services,” Margolin said.

Margolin, who is working from home in Portsmouth, said $20,000 of CARES Act money was used to set up the program. The New Hampshire Charitable Foundation’s community crisis action fund is providing $50,000 for testing at Cross Roads House in 2021.

“It’s a nice example of people identifying a problem, rolling up their sleeves and asking how they should come together to solve a problem,” Margolin said.

According to officials at the CDC, lack of housing contributes to poor physical and mental health outcomes, and linkages to permanent housing for people experiencing homelessness should continue to be a priority during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some people who are experiencing unsheltered homelessness may be at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19 due to older age or certain underlying medical conditions, such as chronic lung disease or serious heart conditions, according to CDC officials.

As of Monday, more than 3,000 tests for long term care facilities and shelters had been processed, according to a news release.

“Since the UNH lab opened in August, we have processed more than 300,000 tests and we’re pleased to partner with the state to be able to extend this service to help protect our state’s most vulnerable populations,” Marian McCord said in a statement.

McCord is the senior vice provost for research, economic engagement and outreach and co-chair of the UNH Testing and Tracing Committee.

NH DHHS Commissioner Lori Shibinette said due to the nationwide increase in community transmission of COVID-19 over the past few months, national testing laboratories are seeing increasing demands.

This partnership with UNH will ensure faster test results, which will help facilities isolate people who test positive and contain the spread of the virus, Shibinette said in a statement.

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