According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), families and individuals experiencing homelessness are more vulnerable to infectious diseases due to lack of access to primary care, mobility, and poor health status from extended episodes of homelessness. Here are a few one-pagers from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) concerning the novel Coronavirus known as COVID-19, to make available to residents:
- What you need to know about Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)
- Stop The Spread of Germs
- Symptoms of Coronavirus Disease 2019
- What to do if you are sick with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)
Additionally, HUD released an Infectious Disease Preparedness webinar and a toolkit for CoCs to provide structure and specific examples for planning and responding to influenza, Coronavirus, and other infectious diseases. The toolkit consists of three documents that provide information for CoC leadership, homeless service providers, and partners to utilize when planning for and responding to infectious diseases:
- Preventing and Managing the Spread of Infectious Disease for People Experiencing Homelessness
- Preventing and Managing the Spread of Infectious Disease within Shelters
- Preventing and Managing the Spread of Infectious Disease within Encampments
Effective March 16, 2020, the Western Virginia CoC will be moving toward active social distancing which entails reducing person-to-person contact. The CoC is working to purchase video conferencing software so meetings can be held virtually rather than in-person. We are monitoring coronavirus updates and may arrange a virtual planning meeting among services providers if cases of the disease escalates in our region. We will also work to have a health department representative speak at the next CoC meeting (April 9), which will be virtual. Furthermore, we strongly encourage service providers (especially emergency shelters) to develop a contigency plan for their agency that works to minimize the spread of the virus and prepare for the possibility of an outbreak. Some questions to consider when creating your plan include:
- How are you currently communicating with your stakeholders to address COVID-19 concerns?
- What are you doing and can you do to minimize the possibility of an outbreak in your agency? (e.g. sanitation, education, social distancing, flexible leave policies, etc.)
- What would you do if an outbreak occurred? Can you address an outbreak if it occurs?
- How would you communicate about an outbreak to clients, stakeholders, the community?
- What resources and arrangements will you need to be able to deal with an outbreak?
Additionally, the Western Virginia CoC strongly encourages service providers to contact their local public health departments, Healthcare for the Homeless agencies, and other local health partners to ensure the unique needs and opportunities related to the homeless service system are incorporated. HUD is also available to provide technical assistance to our homeless assistance providers who need support in preventing or responding to the spread of infectious disease. Please submit your questions to the Ask A Question (AAQ) portal with “Health Preparedness and Response” in the subject line.
Executive Director, Harrisonburg Redevelopment and Housing Authority