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St. Vincent halts operations after volunteer tests positive for COVID-19

A volunteer for Medford St. Vincent de Paul has tested positive for COVID-19, resulting in an immediate indefinite closure of all services and facilities for the heavily relied upon social services organization.

The COVID-19-positive volunteer didn’t work directly with the homeless population, St. Vincent officials said.

St. Vincent officials initially estimated a reopening in two weeks, but later said the closure would be maintained for as long as necessary as a means of exercising “extreme caution” and protecting customers, clients and volunteers.

Officials for Medford St. Vincent de Paul reported the positive test Thursday morning and said the volunteer was self-isolating and working with regional health officials to determine required contact tracing.

John Vinatieri, president of St. Vincent de Paul Society Medford, said closure of all facilities — including the meal operations, thrift store operations, donations and social service facilities — was the smartest thing to do to ensure safety of volunteers, customers and clients.

Between 100-150 sack lunches, instead of hot meals, have been distributed since the pandemic began, but those services are also being discontinued to allow for thorough sanitation of all facilities.

Vinatieri said concern for the advanced age of the organization’s volunteer pool in addition to the transient nature of the agency’s clientele warranted extreme and immediate response. With no new occupants being admitted into St. Vincent’s available shelter, only five residents are currently being housed.

Vinatieri was awaiting further direction Thursday from regional health authorities and additional testing of the volunteer who tested positive.

“The best thing to do, immediately, was to close everything down. This particular volunteer is someone who has been all around, in every aspect of our organization,” he said.

“We’re doing a thorough cleaning and sanitation of all our facilities. We’re in touch with the local officials and figuring out what all we need to do. We are taking this very seriously.”

Compassion Highway Project Director Melissa Mayne said she was gravely concerned about the closure of St. Vincent’s. While CHP volunteers and clientele have been donning masks prior to Oregon Gov. Kate Brown’s requirement to do so, Mayne said her organization is spread thinner than usual.

“I’m swamped every day so I don’t even want to know how bad it’s going to be now. When I get to our offices every morning, I have a long line waiting for me outside,” she said.

“There is such a tremendous need for all our services like water, to use the bathroom, clothes, shoes, breakfast. ... We already can’t keep up and we have had fewer volunteers since COVID began, too. I can’t imagine two weeks without all the help that St. Vincent’s provides our community.”

Vinatieri said his organization had required masks prior to state mandate as well, and that the volunteer who tested positive had been wearing a mask while working in various facilities.

“We had already been wearing masks and we all have been pretty careful. We have a lot of older volunteers, so we have to require extreme caution to keep everyone as healthy as possible,” he said.

“At this time, no reopen date has been set and all facilities will be fully sanitized prior to reopen.”

Vinatieri said he was impressed with county officials immediate and thorough response to providing his agency assistance and said he was eager to provide services again as soon as possible.

He added, “We feel very blessed to be able to do all the things that we do for the community and we hope to be back doing it very soon.”

Updates will be posted online, stvincentdepaulmedford.info.

Reach freelance writer Buffy Pollock at buffyp76@yahoo.com