To protect all of our most vulnerable citizens during this challenging time, the County of Orange is working with a diverse group of stakeholders including cities, nonprofits and faith-based organizations to prevent COVID-19 illnesses and outbreaks in persons experiencing homelessness. The information below provides guidance to assist our community partners in their COVID-19 response.
Recommendations for Homeless Shelters
Develop a COVID-19 Prevention Plan
All homeless shelters in Orange County should have a plan to prevent the introduction and spread of COVID-19 into their facilities. This plan should include measures to assure adequate physical distancing, educate staff and clients about COVID-19, and respond to suspected or confirmed COVID-19 cases. A summary of critical measures can be found in HCA’s Shelter COVID-19 Checklist.
Conduct Routine Laboratory Screening
As community restrictions are relaxed in the coming months, shelter staff and residents will be more likely to come in contact with COVID-19 cases. Maintaining regular screening of staff and residents is one of the best ways to continue to prevent spread of COVID-19 in shelter settings without unduly restricting resident movement.
Congregate living-style shelters (as opposed to dormitory or hotel-style shelters) should perform routine laboratory screening of unvaccinated staff and residents. This screening should be performed weekly if possible and at least every four weeks, whether or not COVID-19 cases have recently been identified in the shelter. Fully vaccinated shelter residents and staff do not have to be tested as part of routine laboratory screening of facilities when no COVID-19 exposure has been identified.
For additional recommendations, see Homeless Shelter COVID-19 Screening Guidance.
Facilities should have policies regarding resident activities outside the shelter which balance the rights, quality of life, and health of shelter residents with the need to limit the risk for COVID-19 introduction.
Homeless shelter clients and staff are mandated to wear face masks while in these facilities according to California State Public Health Order. Note that this mandate was maintained for shelter settings in the modified State Public Health Order issued June 15, 2021.
The updated California State Public Health Order no longer mandates physical distancing in shelter settings. However, in line with CDC guidance, OCHCA continues to strongly recommend that regardless of vaccination status, all clients, staff, and volunteers should continue maintaining physical distance in shelters. Specific CDC recommendations include:
- Use physical barriers to protect staff who will have interactions with clients with unknown infection status (e.g., check-in staff). For example, install a sneeze guard at the check-in desk or place an additional table between staff and clients to increase the distance between them to at least 6 feet.
- In dining areas, create at least 6 feet of space between seats, and/or allow either for food to be delivered to client rooms or for clients to take food away. If eating throughout the facility (like on their cots), clients should still remain 6 feet apart from others.
- Members of the same family, or parents with children, can sit closer than 6 feet together when dining in shared spaces but should remain 6 feet from other clients.
- In general sleeping areas (for those who are not experiencing respiratory symptoms), try to make sure client’s faces are at least 6 feet apart.
- Align mats/beds so clients sleep head-to-toe.
OCHCA also recommends that residents avoid crowds as well as contact with any known or suspected cases of COVID-19.
For additional CDC guidance, see https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/homeless-shelters/index.html.
Vaccinate Shelter Staff and Residents
Vaccination is the most effective way to protect persons staying at and working in shelter sites. Contact OCHCA at 714-567-6246 to arrange vaccination assistance.
Guidance for Fully Vaccinated Homeless Shelter Residents and Staff (Updated June 21, 2021)
In accordance with updated CDC guidance, homeless shelter residents and staff who are fully vaccinated do not have to quarantine after close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case as long as they remain asymptomatic. They should be tested at 7 and 14 days after close contact to a confirmed case.
Fully vaccinated shelter residents and staff do not have to be tested as part of routine laboratory screening of facilities when no COVID-19 exposure has been identified.
- OCHCA Public Health
- Shelter Guidance and Resources (4/9/20)
- Homeless Shelter - FAQ (4/9/20)
- CDCD Medical Director – Guidance Memo (3/24/20)
- National Health Care for the Homeless Council. COVID-19 Information for Homeless Shelters and Homeless Service Providers.
- California Department of Public Health (CDPH)
- CDC Interim Guidance for Homeless Shelters
- HUD Infectious Disease Toolkit for CoCs
- Preventing and Managing the Spread of Infectious Disease for People Experiencing Homelessness
- Preventing and Managing the Spread of Infectious Disease within Shelters
- Preventing and Managing the Spread of Infectious Disease within Encampments