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Charlottesville area homeless shelters taking precautions to prevent spread of coronavirus

Updated: Mar. 13, 2020 at 2:41 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Homeless shelters around the Charlottesville area are running into a dangerous reality as health experts urge people to spread apart to slow the spread of COVID-19.

People and Congregations Engaged in Ministry (PACEM) and The Haven both have plans in place to deal with the outbreak; however, the staff at both organizations said those plans can change in a matter of hours.

“This is really a day-to-day thing and the situation seems to be changing every 48 hours,” PACEM Executive Director Jayson Whitehead said. “Hope for the best, plan for the worst is always the mindset.”

The Haven also held a planning meeting Friday, March 13 to discuss preparations in response to the viral outbreak. Whitehead said PACEM is currently looking into screening their guests for symptoms before entering host sites, however what that process looks like is still to be determined. The organization is also looking into alternative host sites.

For those without a place to stay, PACEM is often a last line of defense for many who are considered especially vulnerable to the coronavirus.

“Many of our folks are dealing with weakened immune systems for instance or we have more than 30% of our folks that stay with us this year are 55 and older so they are theoretically at risk,” Whitehead said.

PACEM and The Haven have implemented common-sense sanitary practices, including using hand sanitizer and wearing both gloves and face masks if necessary.

“At our sleep sites greater distance in between every cot or mattress,” he said. ”We’re also asking any guest that maybe say coughing or, or seems to be getting sick to wear a face mask.”

Whitehead also said he’s seeing increased concern of the virus spreading from host sites and volunteers.

Some volunteers, he said, have decided to stay home, but in many of those cases, other people are stepping in, “There’s definitely is a lot of concern from our host sites and they’re concerned about protecting their volunteers and that definitely makes sense."

Concern is also growing over the number of sanitary supplies the shelter and host sites have. This is not currently a shortage, Whitehead said, however, he foresees it being an issue.

THE HAVEN RESPONSE TO COVID-19:

Our doors will remain open.

The Haven serves populations that are at high risk for death from the novel coronavirus, including those who are homeless, elderly, and who have chronic and serious illnesses. The Haven takes our responsibility seriously to protect our guests, volunteers, and staff from outside infection, and to keep the virus from spreading from the homeless population to the larger Charlottesville community. As a team, we have developed the following plan and protocols to accomplish these goals:

Phase 1: Precautionary (before confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Charlottesville)

1. Advise hand-washing/sanitizing upon entering the facility and require before/after handling food service.

2. Post signage related to handwashing and prevention of Covid-19 spread.

3. Use all recommended CDC guidelines around food handling and service.

4. Provide extra hand sanitizer and disinfecting products in the shelter and staff offices.

5. Disinfect communal surfaces every hour using bleach solution.

6. Communicate instructions and updates regarding Haven approach to COVID-19 and volunteer taskforce.

7. Designate low-risk Haven volunteers to assist with basic day shelter operations.

8. Contact the Health Department and local hospital systems to request testing and quarantine plans.

Phase 2: Pre-Quarantine (confirmed local cases/community spread)

1. Require hand-washing/sanitizing upon entering the facility.

2. Postpone all community material donations. We will still accept monetary donations at our website.

3. Request all at-risk staff, volunteers, and the general public to stay away from The Haven.

4. Encourage guests with housing to remain in their housing and not come to The Haven.

5. Implement low-risk Haven volunteer taskforce to assist staff with basic day shelter operations.

6. Food service will be limited to unhoused guests accessing Haven services. To-go meals will be provided to housed Haven guests.

7. Postpone all walk-in morning appointments; direct all housing and financial assistance referrals to the Community Resource Line. Afternoon intake appointments will be conducted by phone.

8. Any staff who exhibit flu-like symptoms will self-quarantine for at least 14 days and not come to work.

9. Staff will implement a modified shift schedule to meet core operational functions.

10. Coordinate with the Health Department, local hospital systems, and city staff to request testing and quarantine plans.

Phase 3 - Quarantine (spreading within the Haven community)

1. Only unhoused community members allowed at The Haven; no outside volunteers; staff assigned to meet core functions.

2. Continue to collaborate with the Health Department, community partners, and local health systems to determine isolation protocols for unhoused guests of The Haven.

Thank you to Our Community Place for this communication model.

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