Good Samaritan Shelters in both Lompoc and Santa Maria are gradually upping their shelter capacity after congregants received COVID-19 vaccines late last week.
The Santa Barbara County Public Health Department distributed vaccines to shelter clients at Good Samaritan Shelters in Lompoc and Isla Vista last Thursday and vaccinated clients in Santa Maria on Friday. Each congregant received the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, giving them immunity against the coronavirus in just one dose.
“We had clients that were very eager to get (the vaccine),” Sylvia Barnard, executive director for Good Samaritan Shelter, told the News-Press. “I think just like the rest of the world, our clients are really eager to have more flexibility and freedom.”
With vaccines successfully distributed, the Good Samaritan Shelters began increasing their shelter capacity from 50% to 75% over the weekend. Already, Santa Maria’s shelter is close to 75% capacity, while the Lompoc shelter is still hovering around 50%.
Over the course of the pandemic, congregate homeless shelters have been heavily impacted by restrictions and community spread. As gatherings were banned across the state, shelters were forced to limit their shelter capacity for the sake of social distancing.
Still, this did not fully protect shelter congregants from contracting COVID-19.
At Good Samaritan’s shelter in Santa Maria, what started as an individual case of COVID turned into a month-long isolation period for 120 shelter residents. Though the shelter never experienced a large-scale outbreak, each individual positive case resulted in sending congregants into another 14-day quarantine period.
“What would happen is that just one positive test would shut down the entire shelter system,” Ms. Barnard said.
To avoid quarantine mishaps in the future, the shelter system now has rapid testing in place, which allows shelter staff to test individuals when they initially come to the shelter to track active cases before the virus spreads in the congregant facility.
Despite limited capacity during the pandemic, Ms. Barnard said Good Samaritan Shelters have seen positive turnover in the past year as most of the people who left congregate shelters moved into some form of permanent living situation.