The new commonly voiced mantra “stay at home” in light of the ongoing pandemic has a very different meaning for the population of about 1.4 million Americans who currently use transitional housing or homeless shelters. While the amount of people in this group fluctuates due to unemployment rates at an all time high, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has proposed a community based approach dependent on local government leadership, law enforcement, healthcare service providers, etc. to handle the spread of coronavirus within shelters. The CDC maintains that it is imperative to keep existing housing open, with additional preventative and responsive measures in place; however, the real difficulty lies in the systematic approach taken when concerning COVID-19 testing.
Maxmen of Nature writes that tests are rare, so a significant portion of a shelter remains untested until after an outbreak has occurred. Shelters can only afford to test those with symptoms due to their limited resources, despite the reality that most people carrying the virus tend to be asymptomatic. This unfortunately ensures that outbreaks spread unnoticed, rendering these communal houses an epicenter of the virus. For example, “by the time a person from a shelter in San Francisco had been diagnosed with COVID-19 in April, more than 90 other residents and 10 people who worked there were already infected.”
The failure to protect infected individuals in a highly populated, close-quarters setting results in transmission rates increasing rapidly, with the entire nation falling further into more and more cases. Though certain cities have begun to provide accommodations to their homeless populations through hotel rooms, a majority still reside in tents or large housing arrangements. Maxmen corroborates that “without further interventions, more than 21,300 homeless people in the United States will need to be hospitalized for COVID-19.” It is clear that policymakers need to keep these communities in mind when taking action to support the nation as a whole.