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Omaha homeless shelter ending its COVID-19 quarantine

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The 450-bed Siena Francis House emergency shelter, at 1117 N. 17th St., began accepting homeless men again Thursday after quarantining its men's dormitories when seven men tested positive for COVID-19 in mid-July.

The Siena Francis House began accepting men at its homeless shelter again Thursday for the first time since men there tested positive for COVID-19 in July.

Siena Francis, near downtown Omaha, had quarantined its emergency shelter for men and stopped accepting new male guests July 20 after seven people staying there tested positive.

One man had tested positive in mid-July, prompting the quarantine of one men’s dorm. The other men’s dorm was quarantined a week later after six other male guests tested positive. Those results came after the Nebraska National Guard helped test all 374 people at the shelter, almost all of them homeless people but also including employees.

The women’s shelter has remained open.

The seven men who tested positive were isolated in a building that was vacated when Siena Francis’ new shelter opened last year, said Tim Sully, development director.

Siena Francis referred men seeking shelter during the quarantine to other local shelters, offering them Uber rides, though not all the men chose to go to those places. If men left the Siena Francis emergency shelter during that time, they could not return, Sully said. A lot of them stayed and went along with the quarantine, he said.

No subsequent cases have been reported, Sully said. One men’s dorm reopened Thursday, and the other is expected to reopen Monday, he said, following dates recommended by the Douglas County Health Department.

Linda Twomey, Siena Francis House executive director, has been in frequent contact with Douglas County Health Director Adi Pour, Sully said.

“It was all to do with keeping our guests and staff safe,” Sully said. “We’re trying to make the smartest decisions with that in mind.”

That includes frequent sanitizing of surfaces and furnishings at the shelter and promoting social distancing, hand-washing and mask-wearing among staff and guests.

An additional homeless man who was not staying at Siena Francis tested positive July 20.

“Only having eight total positives is a testament to how the efforts that our staff and guests and clients have done in following our directions,” Sully said. “Initially, the clients were kind of slow on the uptake on masks, but gradually more and more have been wearing them.”

Sully said he recently was in the shelter’s dining room and “nearly 100 %” of guests were wearing masks.

“I think when we had positive cases, it became evident to them that this is here and to be safe you have to do these things,” he said.

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Chris Burbach covers the Douglas County Board, Planning Board and other local government bodies, as well as local neighborhood issues. Follow him on Twitter @chrisburbach. Phone: 402-444-1057.

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