You may have seen in the news that the city of Newark, in collaboration with the Department of Health, has mandated COVID-19 testing of all homeless shelters. This presented a real challenge for us at Covenant House. The city was requiring that everyone staying with us be tested for COVID-19. Any young person who was determined to be positive for the virus would have to be relocated to an area hotel and be cared for by the Department of Health.
Our Newark Crisis Center is our largest site. On any given night, it is home for as many as 45 young people. The thought of having to ask even one of our young people to leave the protection of our care because they did not want to be tested went against everything we stand for. Our brave frontline team had been risking their health to help our young people manage their anxiety about the virus since the pandemic began. We had assured our kids that we would do everything we could to keep them safe.
In preparation for testing day, our leaders explained to our young people what was going to happen and why. We helped them fill out the necessary forms. For everyone’s safety, we determined that we also wanted to ensure our team was negative for COVID-19.
On Friday, May 22nd, the Health Department arrived with their long white mobile van and set up a testing center in our Newark parking lot. In the very spots where many of you have slept out to raise money for our work, cones marked off acceptable social distancing protocols. The smiling faces of the twenty health care professionals disappeared before us. They put on white protective suits that covered them head to toe. They donned face masks and added clear shields. The scene brought the severity of a global pandemic home to all of us. It felt surreal, like a scene from a horror movie. Despite all our preparations, everyone was now a bit reluctant.
A few of our staff volunteered to be tested first so the kids could see what was going to happen. The young people watched. Finally, Sam, one of our older kids, stepped forward to be tested. Less than a minute later, he strutted back to the group of kids waiting. He proudly declared, “Aw, that was nothing!” It was the green light we so desperately needed. The rest of the kids stepped forward and lined up six feet apart. That morning every single one of our incredibly brave young people was tested.
I was deeply moved when one of our team members, whose brother had died of COVID-19 the week before, showed up to be tested. She could have said, “No.” I would have understood. However, she did not. She was tested with the rest of her CHNJ family.
I was very proud of our kids and our staff that morning. We did what we had to do to ensure the safety of everyone at Covenant House New Jersey.
Five days later, we finally got our results. I am pleased to share that at the time of testing every one of our young people and our staff at our Newark Crisis Center was COVID-19 negative.
We are now working with the Department of Health and local governments to move forward with testing at our other Covenant House New Jersey locations. I ask you to please keep us in your thoughts and prayers as we learn how to establish a new normal for our young people and our staff.
I want to personally thank you for being a part of our Covenant House New Jersey community. There is no way we could do what we do with your support.
Dave Hall is the Associate Executive Director of Covenant House New Jersey. He oversees the care of our young people at all of our Covenant House New Jersey facilities. Dave has been serving at CHNJ for more than 19 years.
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