An isolation and quarantine facility designed to serve the Las Vegas Valley’s sick and symptomatic homeless during the COVID-19 pandemic will open this evening.
Called the Isolation and Quarantine (ISO-Q) Complex, the tented facility can support up to 500 homeless individuals who need to self-isolate or quarantine because they are recovering from COVID-19 or are suspected to have contracted the disease. Built over the last two weeks, the complex is located at Cashman Field and is believed to be the first of its kind nationwide, officials said.
“Many people spent many hours trying to put this all together in a very short time frame, and what I’d say is kudos to Clark County as a whole, because nowhere else in the country has anyone been able to do this,” Clark County Commission Chairwoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick said.
Las Vegas and Clark County collaborated on the project, with the county contributing up to $6 million and Las Vegas covering another $2.8 million, said city spokesperson Jace Radke. Officials anticipate they will be reimbursed at least in part by the federal government, said Clark County human services administrator Tim Burch.
The facility has separate tents for homeless exposed to COVID-19, for those with symptoms but who have not received a positive test result, and for those who are confirmed to have the disease. Each tent is complete with beds spaced at least six feet apart, a designated bathroom and showering area, heating, air conditioning, electricity and potable water access.
Medical personnel will be on site to care for patients and arrange for their transportation to a hospital if their symptoms become severe. Food will be provided, although no communal meals will take place to contain the spread of the virus.
It is unclear how many homeless people will make use of the facility, which will be open for 90-120 days depending on need and the progression of the pandemic in Clark County, Kirkpatrick said.
“My goal and our goal as a community is that we never have to use this,” she said.
As of Sunday, 2,324 people in Clark County had tested positive for coronavirus, and 100 people had died from the disease.
Nonetheless, the rate of COVID-19 infections among Clark County’s more than 5,000 homeless individuals is unknown, Kirkpatrick said. Three weeks ago, a homeless individual who had stayed at Las Vegas’ Courtyard Homeless Resource Center and Catholic Charities’ homeless shelter tested positive for COVID-19, forcing Catholic Charities to temporarily close. Testing at the ISO-Q Complex will hopefully give officials a better sense of the infection rate in the homeless community, Kirkpatrick said.
“The sooner we can get them into a situation so we know who has it and who doesn’t, that really is what will make this work,” she said.
Medical personnel have secured several hundred tests for the ISO-Q Complex and hope to get more this week so that everyone at the facility — even those who are asymptomatic but may have contracted the virus — can get tested, said Dr. Marc O’Griofa, who will oversee medical staff on the premises.
The homeless are among the most vulnerable populations when it comes to contracting and experiencing complications from COVID-19, which is why the ISO-Q Complex is needed, O’Griofa said. Many homeless people have underlying health conditions that could increase their risk of dying from the disease, he said.
“We already know that a couple of (homeless) people are positive for the COVID-19 virus, and we also know that those who are most at risk come into the virus with comorbidities,” said O’Griofa, who helped assist in the response to the 2014 Ebola outbreak.
To keep staff and patients safe, the ISO-Q Complex will only be open to homeless individuals referred there by hospitals or homeless service organizations, said Kathi Thomas-Gibson, Las Vegas’ director of community services. Security personnel paid for by Las Vegas will help enforce this.
“It’s restricted access, so if you’re not a patient here, you really shouldn’t be coming onto the site because we’re trying to mitigate the spread of coronavirus,” Thomas-Gibson said.
Construction on the complex began March 31, with officials initially estimating it would be completed last Monday. The work took longer than expected because of the unprecedented nature of the complex and the challenges associated with retaining personnel to build and staff the facility during a pandemic, Kirkpatrick said.
“Anytime you’re putting something new together, there’s always a few hurdles, and we only had one opportunity to do this right,” she said.
The ISO-Q Complex still needs more staff to help with operations as well as more health care personnel, Thomas-Gibson said.
“We do not yet know what our surge will look like, so we’re staffed to open,” she said. “If we get a lot of referrals from the hospitals, we’ll need to continually staff up to address that need.”