CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Homeless shelters are part of Phase 1B in the Blue Ridge Health District’s vaccine roll-out plan. However, widely used shelters in the area do not know exactly when they’ll receive their shots.
“For individuals experiencing homelessness they are already at great risk for contracting COVID-19 due to congregate settings, and not being able to socially distance or self isolate at home, it’s impossible to do without a home,” said Ocean Aiello of The Haven in Charlottesville.
Aiello said some staff have been vaccinated already and the day shelter is working with the health district to create “pods” for frequent visitors to get vaccinated. However, when that will happen, is unclear.
”We’re just kind of awaiting to hear from the health district when they get a certain amount of vaccines and can set a specific date, so we’re kind of in a little bit of a limbo, but I think we’re very high priority due to the congregate care setting and due to the vulnerability of guests in our shelter,” Aiello said.
Jayson Whitehead, the executive director of People and Congregations Engaged in Ministry (PACEM), said he’s hoping to receive vaccines in a matter of weeks, alongside increased testing efforts.
“There’s also COVID-19 testing plans in the works as well, at the same time. So, a lot of energy and effort on keeping guests, staff, everybody involved safe,” Whitehead said.
While they wait, both shelters said they’re educating guests on vaccine efforts, through support from the University of Virginia.
“In places like The Haven and other shelters and other congregate settings, it’s very important that providers in those settings are vaccinated. I think that’s been a priority group in the Blue Ridge Health District, and I know at UVA, that we’ve supported those vaccine efforts, I think including vaccinating staff from the Haven. I may be mistaken, but that’s been part of our commitment,” said Dr. Costi Sifri, a lead epidemiologist in the UVA Health System.
When visitors and staff receive vaccines, capacity limits and COVID-19 mitigation guidelines will likely stay in place.
“I think there still needs to be a little more research and a lot lower numbers before we jeopardize any of the staff or those volunteers,” Laura DeLapp, manager of The Haven.
The health district said in an email to NBC29: “BRHD has already vaccinated a number of staff/volunteers who work at local homeless shelters. We have plans in place to begin vaccinating individuals experiencing homelessness later in February.”