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COVID hits homeless shelter

A homeless shelter in downtown Medford temporarily closed its doors to new guests Monday after someone tested positive for COVID-19.

The homeless person, who displayed symptoms of the virus, was quarantined in a room at the Redwood Inn.

Since the positive COVID case, the 64-bed Kelly Shelter has tested all staff members and the remaining homeless people and none tested positive.

“We’re not taking in any new people until the shelter-in-place is declared over by Jackson County Public Health,” said Matt Vorderstrasse, development director for Rogue Retreat.

He said the shelter-in-place order will last for at least two weeks, barring any new cases. The remaining homeless people are allowed to stay at the shelter, but no additional people can be admitted.

A few homeless people in the shelter decided to leave after they learned of the positive case.

This is the fourth time that Rogue Retreat has had a two-week quarantine after someone tested positive for COVID, Vorderstrasse said.

Vorderstrasse said he didn’t know whether the homeless person had received a vaccination and didn’t know other details about the symptoms.

“We’re letting public health quarterback that for us,” he said.

Vorderstrasse said the individual’s symptoms weren’t serious enough to require hospitalization.

Public health officials are in charge of contact tracing to find other persons who may have come in contact with the homeless person.

Since the positive COVID case, the Kelly Shelter has instituted all the shelter-in-place procedures required by public health, including masks and protective gear.

Plastic shields were erected between bunks when the pandemic first broke out, and they remain in place.

Rogue Retreat has been converting the 47-bed Redwood Inn, at 722 N. Riverside Ave., into a shelter for fire victims and the homeless, including for the individual with COVID.

“It’s very serendipitous that we have that,” said Vorderstrasse.

Rogue Retreat also operates the urban campground at the north end of Medford, which currently houses 75 people.

An expansion effort at the campground could soon push that number to 125, with the possibility of going to 150 in the future.

“We’re still working through the approval process,” Vorderstrasse said.

Rogue Retreat has lined up various types of shelter for the campground expansion, including Pallet shelters, which can be erected quickly. The shelters are tiny, measuring 8-by-8-feet.

Medford police have been enforcing an ordinance that bans camping on the Bear Creek Greenway, requiring more shelter beds.

Many of the homeless people displaced by the camping ban have been housed in Rogue Retreat shelters.

Reach freelance writer Damian Mann at dmannnews@gmail.com.