Housing Authority finds masks for households, many donated within city – and some by tenant
The Cambridge Housing Authority has managed to get 10,000 masks to distribute to elderly tenants living in low-income housing developments for seniors as well as single elders in family housing sites.The agency has given four masks to each household in an effort to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
Like other forms of protective equipment, masks have been scarce during the coronavirus pandemic. The housing agency bought 1,000 masks online and received donations from the city’s Department of Public Works, Pro EMS and fire and police departments, executive director Mike Johnston said. Johnston also personally picked up 5,000 masks from a Waltham supplier after the state Department of Public Health “gave me a lead,” he said.
State health officials estimate that four masks “should last each resident about two weeks during normal use,” Johnston said. “Residents need to understand that the mask should only be used if they leave their apartment and it is not an alternative to social distancing of CDC guidelines,” he said in an email. CHA intends to make a second delivery of four masks in another two weeks, Johnston said.
A CHA tenant has also made more than 200 cloth masks and donated them to housing authority workers, Johnston said.
In another effort to protect elderly tenants from the virus, the Authority asked the city to test tenants in the elderly/disabled developments for coronavirus but didn’t expect a yes answer, Johnston said. The request came when the city announced a pilot surveillance program April 10 with the genomic research center the Broad Institute to test every resident and worker in the city’s seven nursing homes and assisted living centers, regardless of symptoms.
“Honestly, I figured it was a stretch … but had to ask,” Johnston said. The agency has no alternative plans for testing, he said. Testing for the virus is more important in nursing homes and single-room-occupancy buildings where residents share space and employees circulate from room to room, Johnston said. In CHA housing developments, “our residents live in individual apartments and the real message needs to be that they should assume that someone in their building has Covid-19 and act accordingly. Follow rules for social distancing and CDC guidelines that are posted throughout the building.”
Ten public housing tenants were infected and one has recovered as of April 15, Johnston said. Three employees have tested positive and seven are in self-quarantine because of possible exposure.