Rapid response in homeless shelters by public health experts

Thursday, April 23, 2020

From Public Health Seattle and King County

New research details how a rapid response in homeless shelters by public health experts can help protect shelter clients and staff from COVID-19. Also, read about tips for keeping multigenerational families healthy at home.

By responding rapidly to clusters of illness in homeless shelters, Public Health—Seattle & King County is establishing a national model for containing the spread of COVID-19 illness.

Two research articles published today, April 22, by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describe how multi-disciplinary teams deployed by Public Health are helping homeless shelters to protect their residents and staff.

Public Health deploys rapid response teams to homeless service sites where there is a confirmed positive case of COVID-19 or a suspected cluster based on people with symptoms of COVID-19. These multi-disciplinary teams assess the level of current illness, assess the risk of further contagion, and connect service providers and residents with resources to identify illness and prevent further spread.

Each of these teams has an environmental health staff person who assesses the facility and provides recommendations to reduce risk, such as procedures to support adequate social distancing and infection control measures. In addition, clinical team members provide education on COVID-19, screen residents and staff for symptoms, facilitate testing of exposed residents and staff, provide access to resources such as thermometers and surgical masks, and make referrals to the county’s Isolation and Quarantine facilities and Assessment and Recovery Centers.

For additional testing, a separate Mobile Assessment Team or testing team from a partner organization is available to deploy to sites, based on the specific needs at each location. In the past month, approximately 1,500 residents and staff have been tested at facilities that have had at least one positive case of COVID-19.

Since February, Public Health has been proactively reaching out to sites without any confirmed or suspected illnesses, providing technical advice on infection control and social distancing. These assessments support facilities in accessing hygiene supplies such as wipes, masks and cleaning products through a shared warehouse ordering process.

For details on King County’s coordinated response to limit the harm of COVID-19 among people living homeless, see “Action Steps: Supporting King County residents experiencing homelessness.”


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