Coronavirus has hit at least two Utah inpatient addiction programs

(Jeremy Harmon | The Salt Lake Tribune) One of the Odyssey House locations in Salt Lake City on April 10, 2020.

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Utah’s inpatient addiction programs have been bracing for the coronavirus to hit their clients who live and receive treatment in dorm-style housing.

And for a few, it’s already here.

Odyssey House has had several confirmed cases in one of its facilities and Valley Behavioral Health on Thursday confirmed that it has had one resident who tested positive who has been moved to a quarantine shelter.

Those who have tested positive at Odyssey House have also been sent to a Salt Lake County quarantine facility. Those who manage these programs say they are doing their best to continue treatment for Utahns recovering from drug and alcohol addiction during the pandemic.

“We’re like any other health care facility where employees deal with a high-risk population,” said Odyssey House CEO Adam Cohen. “We want them to seek help, because the addiction and the mental health issues we deal with can be a lot more deadly than the coronavirus.”

Cohen said that after one of their clients tested positive, they moved people who were healthy to a different part of the building.

Now, anyone who has flu-like symptoms can go into a quarantine unit and wait for test results. If they don’t have the coronavirus, they can return to the area with healthy clients. If they are positive, they are moved to the county quarantine.

He said earlier in the week that seven clients had tested positive, but on Thursday would not be specific about a number of positive tests, saying it was “less than 1%” of those in the program — which he also would not disclose.

Cohen said the facility is thoroughly cleaned regularly and has exceeded all of the guidelines issued by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention since the outbreak began.

Odyssey House has also restricted visitors and moved some of its treatment programs, such as the work they do with inmates at the Salt Lake County jail, online.

“What we’re trying to do is make sure we keep people safe,” he said, “and everybody is right now.”

Other treatment centers say they are attempting to ward off the virus, but think it is likely inevitable that one of their clients will test positive.

Administrators with Valley Behavioral Health, where one client has tested positive, said in a statement that they’ve been doing extra cleanings, created an isolation plan and have limited the number of staff who work with those who may be affected.

“Our staff and clients are of the upmost importance to us,” they said, “and we are doing everything we can to keep everyone safe.”

First Step House Executive Director Shawn McMillen said they’ve also been putting more restrictions on their residents. They have not had any positive cases yet.

“We’re expecting it, to be honest,” he said. “We will eventually see it.”

McMillen said their restrictions have included no outside visitors, and clients have not been able to have any personal items delivered to them. Any new clients are put in separate housing for the first 14 days before they are mixed into the main 64-bed housing unit, and those who are sick are also being monitored in a separate unit.

McMillen said they’ve made it clear to clients and referring agencies, like the courts or probation services, that if people leave, they can’t walk back in without going through the two-week monitoring process as if they were a new client.

They’ve had to ask two people to leave for violating these rules, McMillen said, and have had some people walk away from treatment. But most are appreciative of the extra caution.

Columnist Robert Gehrke contributed to this report.