An NPR member station
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Screening For Covid In A Spokane Shelter

Doug Nadvornick/SPR

Despite the uncertainty over who is currently the health officer at the agency, Spokane Regional Health District employees continue to do their jobs. That includes monitoring the health of people who stay at Spokane’s homeless shelters.

“I’m Kylie Kingsbury and I’m the homeless outreach coordinator for the Spokane Regional Health District. Tonight we’re going out to what we call ‘shelter triage’, which is the health district’s response to preventing the spread of Covid in congregate settings, especially with community members that are a little bit more vulnerable than just the average community member. Living in the shelter, it’s really hard to isolate when you’re in a giant room with a bunch of other people and distancing can be really difficult in that situation.”

“I’m Kira Lewis. I’m a public health nurse at the Spokane Regional Health District. What we do is we screen people who stay there. We ask them if they have any Covid symptoms. We check their temperature. We also, not with everybody, but we communicate with staff if there’s any concern about whether there’s been a Covid exposure. And then, for folks who are symptomatic, we provide Covid testing and a safe place to isolate while they await results. The isolation facilities are staffed with really awesome community health workers and they get meals delivered and basic needs met there and they have their own rooms. We are able to get the tests back in about 24 hours.”

Credit Doug Nadvornick/SPR
The health district team made the Way Out Shelter their first stop of this evening's shelter visits.


On this night, Kira Lewis and Kylie Kingsbury are joined by three Washington State University nursing students. They carpool to a shelter that occupies the former Spokane Housing Authority office at Division and Mission. Spokane County bought the facility this year and had it renovated to serve as a shelter. It’s operated by the Salvation Army, which calls it the “Way Out Shelter,” as in way out of homelessness.

It’s just after dinner. Some people are settling into their bunks. Others are milling around, moving in and out of the building. The students fan out to take people’s temperatures. Kylie Kingsbury sees someone without a mask. She reaches into a backpack for a zip lock baggie full of colorful homemade masks.

Credit Doug Nadvornick/SPR
Kylie Kingsbury carries a variety of homemade and standard medical masks when she visits shelters.


“Thank you for wearing a mask, man. I appreciate it," she said. "We’ve got hot air balloons. We’ve got one more dog print. We’ve got strawberries.”

“I don’t want no strawberries," said one man looking for a mask. "Nah, I’m good.”

Nearly all of the people in the shelter tonight willingly strap on masks, though some wear them incorrectly. Kira Lewis goes to check on a man who has another medical concern. She encourages him to visit a CHAS community health clinic the next day. Kylie Kingsbury goes outside to talk.

“We’ve been doing this since April and I think it’s been a really great opportunity to build relationships and rapport with community members in the shelters," Kingsbury said. "I think being a constant presence, seven-days-a-week, in the shelters and really, genuinely caring how people are feeling and how they’re doing has made our job pretty easy and I think they are very receptive and sometimes it will be right when we walk into the shelter and the parking lot and they’re like, ‘Hey, I need to talk to you. I’m feeling a little bit crummy. Can you give me some advice?’ and then we go from there.”

Case in point, one young man complains that he has some of the symptoms of Covid. Kira Lewis brings him outside into the parking lot where she has her container with testing supplies. He sits down on a folding chair and then she inserts a long swab into his nose and twists it. He squirms a little in discomfort, but within seconds the job is done. She puts the swab into a small, clear tube that preserves the sample until it can be tested.

That unpleasant chore done, the man lifts the container with his belongings and puts it into the back of a van that will take him to an isolation facility for the night. He’ll hear within the next day or so the result of his test. Lewis removes her PPE and stashes the disposables into a plastic bag. She disinfects the chair, repacks her gear, says her goodbyes and leaves with her colleagues to go to the next shelter on tonight’s tour, the House of Charity.