The number of new cases of COVID-19 among Portland’s unhoused population has remained flat even as overall case counts have climbed upward, Multnomah County health officials say.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, a total of 71 people who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 have told health officials that at some point in the previous 12 months they had been without permanent housing, said Kim Toevs, director of communicable disease for Multnomah County Health Department.

That’s a fraction of a percent of the 9,400 people who have tested positive in Multnomah County.

The numbers have been consistently low — with two being reported in the week ending Oct. 24, two the week before that, seven the week before that and three the week before that.

By comparison, total case counts for the same periods were in the hundreds: 613 cases the week ending Oct. 24, 523 the week before, 483 the week before and 332 the week ending Oct. 3.

The number of unhoused people coming down with COVID-19 is “relatively small, and it’s stayed really small the whole pandemic so far,” Toevs said.

Toevs and Marc Jolin, director of the county’s Joint Office of Homeless Services, said there are a variety of reasons case counts have stayed so low.

One factor, Toevs said, was simply luck: So far, there hasn’t been an outbreak among people living in homeless camps.

But from the very beginning — as far back as January and February — officials have planned for the possibility of an outbreak in a homeless shelter and made a plan, Toevs said.

Jolin said the county already had a system in place for handling emergencies that disproportionately affect the homeless population, such as adverse weather events.

“With the investments that the city and the county have made, we’ve been able to sustain those as we’ve gotten deeper into the pandemic,” Jolin said.

That’s included opening socially distanced shelters, setting up handwashing stations near homeless camps, and opening hotels for self-isolation once someone has had a positive test. The Joint Office opened up its third hotel for self-isolation at the end of October.

Once an individual has tested positive, Toevs said, they need to self-isolate for at least 10 days after their symptoms start. They also need to have been free of fever for 24 hours and their symptoms need to be improving before they can be released from isolation back into the community. Read More..