- Associated Press - Saturday, December 12, 2020

SIOUX CITY, Iowa (AP) - Tessa Shanks and her staff are bound and determined to keep the doors of the Warming Shelter open this season amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last season, on March 25, the emergency shelter at 916 Nebraska St. shuttered its doors a month earlier than scheduled over concerns that the virus could spread quickly in its tight quarters. On Nov. 1, it opened again to ensure no one freezes to death during the coldest winter months. On average, 50 people are currently spending the night there, Shanks, the shelter’s director, told the Sioux City Journal.

“We’re doing everything we can to prevent an outbreak. Everybody’s doing their part in what’s necessary to keep the doors open through the season,” said Shanks, who said she worked diligently with both Siouxland District Health Department and Siouxland Community Health Center to figure out what precautions the shelter could take to best prevent the spread of the virus.

Melamine boards, which can be easily sanitized, were placed around every bunk to protect residents as they sleep and a sprinkler system was installed in the Warming Shelter’s day shelter in case residents need to sleep in that area for isolation reasons. Shanks said residents are provided with fabric masks and staff are “constantly sanitizing” throughout the shelter.

“We have a sanitizer that we spray, so that type of board makes it easier to clean,” she said of the melamine boards.

Shanks noted that the shelter can only allow a certain number of showers because each shower has to be sanitized after every use.

Thus far, Shanks said she isn’t aware of anyone contracting the novel coronavirus from being in the shelter. She said the majority of the shelter’s residents don’t seem to be too concerned about that happening.

When they arrive at the shelter each evening, residents’ temperatures are checked and they are asked a series of screening questions.

Residents who are experiencing symptoms indicative of COVID-19, are sent to Siouxland Community Health Center for rapid testing. When they return to the shelter, Shanks said they are placed in an isolation room until the test results come back.

“I haven’t had a whole lot of residents super concerned about it,” she said of COVID-19. “I think they see it more of a nuisance than anything. I just reiterate constantly, ‘This is for your health and well-being.’”

Shanks said the shelter has received “overwhelming” support from the community. Whenever she makes a donation request on the shelter’s Facebook page, she said members of the public have responded with cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer, masks and gloves. While monetary donations are best, Shanks said the shelter is also in need of exam gloves.

“As far as resident needs, there’s a great demand for boots and jeans,” she said.

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