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Before a COVID-19 Outbreak Occurs in Your Local Community
Prepare your organization
To help your organization prepare for the possible spread of COVID-19 and other illnesses, ensure your emergency operations plan includes key COVID-19 prevention strategies. People who are homeless are at risk of COVID-19. Homeless services are often provided in congregate settings, which could facilitate the spread of infection. Because many people who are homeless are older adults or have underlying medical conditions, they may also be at higher risk for severe disease.
To prepare for the spread of COVID-19 in the local community, you should:
- Identify alternative shelters to refer clients to if your space is full.
- Develop a plan to manage higher shelter usage, such as setting up an alternative site.
- Be sure you have extra supplies (e.g., food, toiletries, soap, hand sanitizer, tissues).
Prepare any on-site staff to care for patients with COVID-19 using healthcare recommendations.
- Be sure you are involved with plans for where to house and get care for clients who are sick or who are confirmed to have COVID-19.
Be sure all staff and volunteers are familiar with your emergency operations plan. Ensure you know how to contact them with information and updates (such as through text messages and websites).
Alert local public health officials about large increases in staff or volunteer absenteeism, particularly if absences appear due to respiratory illnesses (such as the common cold or the “flu,” which have symptoms similar to COVID-19). You should also monitor and plan for staff and volunteer absenteeism by:
- Reviewing the usual absenteeism patterns at your shelter.
- Discussing attendance and sick leave policies with staff.
- Encourage staff and volunteers to stay home when sick.
- Use flexibility, when possible, to allow staff to stay home to care for sick family members.
- Being open to cross-training current employees or hiring temporary employees to help cover for staff who need to be out.
Read CDC’s detailed guidance to learn more about how to get your organization ready for COVID-19. CDC also has guidance on preventing COVID-19 among people experiencing unsheltered homelessness.
Take steps to lower the chance that staff and clients will get sick
The best way to prevent illness among your staff and clients is to help them avoid being exposed to germs that can make them sick. Start by encouraging everyone to use everyday preventive actions (such as washing hands often, avoiding close contact with people, and covering coughs and sneezes with a tissue or the inside of the elbow). Be sure you have supplies on hand (such as such as soap, hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol, tissues, trash baskets) for your staff, volunteers, and those you serve.
To help limit the spread of the virus, you should also develop flexible sick-leave and telework policies so that staff (and volunteers) can stay home when they are sick, when they need to care for a sick household member, or to care for their children in the event of temporary school dismissals.
Clean and disinfect a facility to limit spread of the virus
To limit the spread of the viruses such as COVID-19, routinely clean and then disinfect surfaces and objects that are touched often. Some of these surfaces and objects are doorknobs, light switches, keyboards, and countertops. Read CDC guidance on cleaning and disinfecting to learn more. Use the cleaners you typically use. Use all cleaning products according to the directions on the label. For disinfection, most common household disinfectants should be effective. A list of products that are EPA-approved for use against the virus that causes COVID-19 is available herepdf iconexternal icon.
Find information about whether COVID-19 has spread in a community
Learn about special considerations for clients with mental health conditions
The spread of COVID-19 may be very stressful for people and communities. Fear and anxiety about the virus can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions in adults and children. People who have preexisting mental health conditions, including problems with substance abuse, may respond more strongly to the stress of a crisis. People with preexisting mental health conditions should continue with their treatment plans during an emergency and monitor for any new symptoms. Additional information can be found at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Servicesexternal icon website.
During an outbreak in your area
Protect staff and clients during an outbreak of COVID-19 in the local community
If there is an outbreak of COVID-19 in the local area, you should:
- Stay informed and connected to local public health officials and coordinate with your state and local authorities.
- Coordinate with community leaders and other homeless service providers about housing clients if your facility is full.
- Continue encouraging good hygiene and cleaning and disinfecting surfaces regularly.
- Screen clients at check-in for symptoms that might be related to COVID-19.
- Provide a clean, disposable face maskpdf icon to clients with flu-like symptoms (such as a cough, fever, or shortness of breath), and direct them to a designated location for people who are sick.
- Ensure staff members use disposable gloves when handling client belongings.
- Limit visitors to the facility.
- Use multiple strategies to increase space between people, especially those who are at high-risk for serious illness. Examples include:
- Placing physical barriers (such as a “sneeze guard”) between staff and clients during check in.
- Ensuring beds/mats are at least 3 feet apart in general sleeping areas with clients who do not show signs of respiratory illness.
- Asking all clients to sleep head-to-toe.
- Closing or reducing use of common areas. Instead, look for other ways to help clients stay connected socially.
- Identify staff and clients who are at increased risk for severe illness and decrease their face-to-face interactions with others, when possible.
Learn what to do if a client has symptoms that are consistent with COVID-19
If a client has mild symptoms consistent with COVID-19:
- Provide them with a clean, disposable face maskpdf icon. If not available, give them tissues to cover their coughs and sneezes and a lined trash receptacle, when possible.
- Keep them in an individual room and provide an individual bathroom, when possible. If not available, consider using a large, well-ventilated room.
- Have them avoid common areas.
In areas where clients with respiratory illness symptoms are staying:
- Ensure beds at are least 6 feet apart.
- Use temporary barriers, such as curtains.
- Ask clients to sleep head-to-toe.
- Consider reducing the cleaning frequency in bedrooms and bathrooms to protect staff from potential exposure.
If a client has severe symptoms consistent with COVID-19, arrange for the client to receive immediate medical care. If this is a client with suspected COVID-19, notify the transfer team and medical facility before transfer.
Clean and disinfect the facility after a confirmed case of COVID-19
CDC has guidance for cleaning and disinfecting rooms and areas where a person with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 has visited. See Environmental Cleaning and Disinfection Recommendations.
After an Outbreak of COVID-19 in the local community
Review your actions and update your emergency plan
An outbreak of COVID-19 could last a long time, and the impact on your facility may be considerable. When public health officials determine the outbreak has ended in your community, take time to talk through your experiences with your clients and staff. As public health officials continue to plan for COVID-19 and other disease outbreaks, you and your organization have an important role to play in ongoing planning efforts. You can help by:
- Reviewing and updating your emergency plan.
- Participating in community discussions about emergency planning.
- Continuing to practice everyday preventive actions.