Some metro halfway house residents test positive for coronavirus

Denver’s halfway houses have temporarily stopped accepting new residents.

Downtown Denver at dusk, Nov. 20, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Downtown Denver at dusk, Nov. 20, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

KEVIN-lighter

Salina Harrell is a client at the Arapahoe County Residential Reentry Center in Littleton, a halfway house just south of Denver on Santa Fe Drive. We wrote about the facility recently as part of a deep look at the metro area’s troubled re-entry system.

She called us this week to say she and others who live at the facility are worried. Staff didn’t start distributing masks there until last Friday, she said, and one of the guests tested positive on Monday.

GEO Group, one of the largest for-profit companies incarcerating people for governments, runs the facility. Spokesman Brian Miller confirmed that one ACRC resident does have the virus and that the company is “managing the resident according to CDC recommended guidelines” and “guidance from the Tri-County Health Department.”

Harrell said staff showed up in “hazmat suits” when the woman presented symptoms, and took her to be tested. Miller responded after this story was published, saying staff wore appropriate PPE, but nothing so extreme as Harrell described.

Now, she’s isolated in a room by herself, since the normal sleeping situation doesn’t offer space for social distancing.

“Our beds are not six feet apart,” Harrell said. “I can touch the girl next to me from my bed.”

In his statement emailed to Denverite after this story was first published, Miller said Harrell “physically moved her bunk to be near her roommate and was required to move it back to the appropriate location by a resident monitor.” Harrell said her bunk is immovable.

According to April Cotton, who was recently released from the facility, the sick woman was allowed to leave her room throughout the day before she was confirmed to have COVID-19. During that time, she said, others were told to stay in their rooms.

Cotton said she was released before the woman went to the hospital Monday and was determined to have the virus.

Harrell said this made her and other clients nervous.

Miller said she “has not left her room since she returned from the hospital on Monday,” and that “she will be in isolation for 14 days.”

A few other women have also been isolated in separate rooms, Harrell said, though they haven’t tested positive for the virus.

Miller said areas of ACRC are marked off with tape to and that meals have been served “on a staggered schedule to ensure social distancing.”

He added the facility currently holds 103 women, half of its capacity.

The Tri-County Health Department, which serves Littleton and Aurora, said the only COVID-19 outbreak it’s aware of at a halfway house is at the Arapahoe County facility.

Kelli Christensen, a spokeswoman for the city of Denver, said there have been three confirmed cases at halfway houses in the city. Two people tested positive in April and have already returned to the city’s Ulster and Dahlia facilities. A third, from a halfway house Christensen declined to disclose, tested positive last week and is being treated.

Christensen said Denver’s re-entry program stopped accepting new clients on April 3 to keep populations low and encourage social distancing. Individual programs in the city are in constant contact with Denver’s health department and community corrections division, she added, and officials are advising program managers on ways to keep the virus from spreading.

This story has been updated to reflect comment from GEO.

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