Second James Steam Mill resident tests positive for COVID

DAVE ROGERS/Staff photoA second resident of James Steam Mill apartments in Newburyport's South End has reportedly tested positive for the coronavirus. 

NEWBURYPORT — A second James Steam Mill resident tested positive for COVID-19 last week, prompting the management company to suspend construction there and issue a warning to tenants. 

There are 99 federal subsidized units at the Charles Street complex, which houses people 62 years old and up and people with disabilities. The former mill building is overseen by SHP Management Corp., a private company, and not the Newburyport Housing Authority.

The announcement of a second resident testing positive comes less than two months after SHP said a second employee tested positive for the potentially fatal virus. 

Company President Matt Brucker said no other residents have tested positive since the announcement. 

"As far as I know, it's only one. We are confident all residents make us aware when there's a positive test," Brucker said. 

In response to the positive test, SHP distributed a flyer asking residents to adhere to all Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and practice good hygiene. 

"Behave as if everyone is positive because we just don't know who may be positive," Brucker said. 

At the time of the positive test, contractors were making electrical upgrades, installing new kitchen cabinets, and making general repairs to the converted brick mill building. Brucker said those projects would resume in about a week. 

But James Steam Mill resident Clive Lee called for all nonessential work to cease until residents are vaccinated. 

"It’s simple, it has always been simple. Why paint doors that don’t need painting? The carpet is serviceable and presentable – it can wait to be replaced. The kitchens are serviceable – no need to upgrade them now," Lee said in an email. "We have a pandemic raging and they carry on regardless."

The first James Steam Mill resident tested positive in late May or early June while in the hospital. A similar flyer was distributed to residents but repairs to an inoperative elevator continued on schedule. Brucker said Thursday the project was completed "a couple months ago." 

Word of the facility's first COVID-19 case comes as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expected to approve the first vaccine next week. Earlier this week, CDC officials voted to distribute the first batch of vaccines to nursing home residents, others in residential care facilities and health care workers. 

Since the pandemic hit the U.S. in late February, those living in nursing homes and assisted living facilities have been among the hardest hit groups in the nation with tens of thousands of deaths recorded. To date, more than 270,000 people have died from the virus in the U.S.

Brucker said he has yet to hear from U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development officials as to whether James Steam Mill residents would be among the first in line to receive vaccinations. 

"We basically know what you know by watching the news," Brucker told a Daily News reporter. 

Staff writer Dave Rogers can be reached at drogers@newburyportnews.com. Follow him on Twitter @drogers41008.

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