Preventing Community Spread of COVID-19 in Sites like Jails and Emergency Shelters

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Unhoused people staying in emergency shelter, individuals who are incarcerated or living in residential treatment programs, halfway houses and residential re-entry programs are at a unique risk for the spread of COVID-19. 

Reducing crowding in these facilities through rapid rehousing, expanded shelter sites and criminal justice reform are essential measures for local governmentsEnsuring priority access for those at highest risk for complications from COVID-19 (seniors, those with underlying health conditions) is critical. For those remaining in these facilities, there are particular needs that cities can support to prevent widespread community spread.  

Ensure emergency shelters, jails and holding locations, and other residential facilities have resources to develop and implement infection control procedures. Consider developing a checklist or assessment tool to implement these procedures.

  • San Diego, CA has deployed public health nurses to shelters across the region  
  • Chicago, IL guidance for emergency shelters 
  • San Francisco, CA released a public health order to expand cleaning in facilities, expand shelter hours, increase meal offerings and provide funding to support cleaning in privately owned single-room occupancy hotels
  • Los Angeles County created a checklist for ensuring hygiene, distancing measures in emergency shelters

Ensure individuals arprovided clean water and adequate supplies to keep themselves and their belongings safe and healthy. Strategies to prevent social isolation (such as supporting free telephone calls for those who are currently incarcerated) are critical.

  • Seattle, WA– Navigation teams have distributed over 700 hygiene kits to unhoused individuals  
  • San Jose, CA – Partnering with the nonprofit WeHOPE to operate a mobile medical trailer with virtual doctor’s visits, and to distribute hygiene kits with hand sanitizer, gloves, masks, fresh fruit and healthy snacks to homeless encampments. 

Provide mobile hygiene facilities for those living in public spaces without access to running water

  • Seattle, WA– Deployed 14 toilets and 6 handwashing stations 
  • San Diego, CA has set up 66 handwashing stations 
  • Fremont, CA – Developed CleanStart Mobile Hygiene Unit with a publicly posted schedule 

About the Author: Aliza R. Wasserman is the Senior Program Specialist with NLC’s Race, Equity, And Leadership (REAL) Initiative.