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Image of a contact-less thermometer held by a medical professional with purple gloves on.

Thermometers Needed For NYC Homeless Shelters Stuck In China

By Greg B. Smith
The City 

In late March, when 17 people living in homeless shelters had tested positive for COVID-19 and zero had died, city officials weren’t taking the temperature of residents.

But as the coronavirus crisis intensified, officials promised to get enough thermometers right away to screen for symptoms.

Six weeks later, an order for 1,800 infrared touchless thermometers sits in boxes in a room in China, held up by Chinese customs. The earliest New York can expect to see even part of that order is May 4.

Meanwhile, the number of COVID-positive homeless New Yorkers has risen to 775, with 57 more killed by the virus as of Tuesday.

The delay of the 1,800 thermometers is just one of the obstacles the city has faced as coronavirus spreads through city-run shelters, forcing the Department of Homeless Services to evacuate hundreds of residents to “isolation” hotel rooms across the city.

The thermometer shortage, though, also extends to the hotels.

At a DHS isolation hotel in Brooklyn, where dozens of shelter residents who are presumed positive have been staying over the last month, apparently nobody was given thermometers to monitor themselves for fever.

That’s a problem: The nurses assigned to the hotel perform only telephone wellness checks and rely on residents to take their own temperature.

Couldn’t Take Temperature

Deborah Berkman, a senior attorney with the New York Legal Assistance Group, which represents a resident at the Brooklyn hotel, said he’d been placed there March 25 as a presumptive positive with multiple symptoms. He’s been there since and hasn’t been tested.

During his stay, he spiked a fever. And since the residents there are required to share space, he’s had three different roommates, all of whom displayed COVID-19 symptoms, Berkman said.

“They couldn’t take their temperature for weeks,” she said, noting that on Friday — a month after he arrived at the hotel — a nurse finally showed up with a thermometer.

“The city is failing in its obligation to protect people experiencing homelessness by putting them into isolation without adequate supplies like thermometers and (personal protective equipment) and cleaning supplies,” Berkman said. “This has been going on for a long time. One of these hotels was open for over a month without a thermometer.”

Originally published in The City on April 29, 2020.

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