Housing advocates fear an outbreak of coronavirus in homeless populations as shelters across the country scramble to increase capacity and maintain social distancing. With no access to health care the homeless can spread the virus across states faster than people that can afford regular health care. Many cities are working to test and isolate this vulnerable population. Watch Dr. O'Connell here.
Dr. Jim O’Connell, president of Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program, noted that preparing to test and care for homeless people is different than it is for the general population. Social distancing and quarantining don’t apply to homeless shelters.
"[Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program's] doctors and nurses will staff the quarantine tents. On Tuesday, they started performing coronavirus tests in another tent behind their South End clinic and the Woods Mullen shelter. Before then, people had to get tested at hospitals.
“This is the time to set up a process for when it does hit because it feels inevitable to me. It feels like an avalanche is headed our way,” said Dr. James O’Connell, president of Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program, which is overseeing the program.
“As we’ve seen with tuberculosis, norovirus, and so many others, infections spread really quickly through the shelter system,” said Dr. Jessie Gaeta, chief medical officer of Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program (BHCHP).
Last week, Dr. Jennifer K. Brody, director of HIV services at the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program, alerted colleagues in the area to the seven new cases. That prompted the state Department of Public Health to initiate its investigation and put out an alert on Wednesday.
The “medical observation and monitoring services” plan was inspired by the Supportive Place for Observation and Treatment, or SPOT, at the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program, according to the state’s request for proposals.