35 people now staying at Mary Hall after it opened to house homeless with COVID-19 symptoms

Mary Hall, near the Opportunity Center in downtown St. Paul, has opened its doors to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 within the homeless population in Ramsey County.

Now there are 35 people staying at the location.

Each person experiencing symptoms has their own room to recover in, a change from the close quarters of a shelter.

“We are really concerned about the population, they're vulnerable for so many reasons,” said Helene Freint, the Healthcare for the Homeless program director, with Minnesota Community Care.

The organization has partnered with the county to provide nurses and physicians to care for the individuals staying at Mary Hall. 

The number of residents has been growing since it opened on March 27. The organization told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS that 11 people were being cared for on Thursday, jumping to 30 by Friday afternoon. As of Sunday, there were 35 people staying at Mary Hall.

“None of them have tested positive for COVID-19,” Freint said.

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She said the first patients to move in had clear symptoms, while the next 25 residents have either been asymptomatic or possibly had symptoms.

“It’s hard to tell by just listening to a health history, and that’s why testing will be very helpful,” Freint said. “It does take about a week to get results at this point.”

Minnesota Community Care is currently operating two testing sites, taking walk-ins at their Downtown Clinic and conducting drive-up testing at their East Side Family Clinic. Through their lab partner, Quest, they have 68 tests available for the entire Minnesota Community Care system.

After conversations over the last week, the Minnesota Department of Health will now provide tests specifically for those staying at Mary Hall.

“We should be able to start testing later this week,” Freint said

Freint went on to say she expects they will test all 35 people in the Mary Hall Respite Program.

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, there aren’t any confirmed cases within the homeless population in Ramsey County. There are only two cases among that population statewide, both in Hennepin County.

During Monday’s update from state leaders, the Department of Health listed shelters as a priority for testing.

“We feel that we have an obligation to provide the testing that’s needed for the most vulnerable populations,” said Kris Ehresmann, the MDH Infectious Disease Director.

Meanwhile, Freint said they are doing more outreach with unsheltered individuals during this crisis, increasing their efforts to four mornings each week. Some of the individuals staying at Mary Hall have been referred through that outreach.