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.
Vaccinate Shelter Staff and Residents
Vaccination is the most effective way to protect against COVID-19 for persons staying at and working in shelter sites. OCHCA can provide assistance for facilities that are interested in arranging vaccination events at their sites. Interested facilities should contact OCHCA at 714-567-6246.
Wear Masks Consistently
Universal masking continues to be required in homeless shelter settings according to the California State Public Health Officer order issued on February 7, 2022. This order relaxed the requirement for vaccinated persons to be masked in many community indoor settings, but maintained a universal masking requirement in high risk settings such as shelters.
Masking continues to be a critical measure to prevent spread of COVID-19. Masking using a higher-level respirators (e.g., N95s, KN95s, KF94s) with good fit are highly recommended. Alternatively, if a higher-level respiratory is not available, surgical masks may be used.
Conduct Routine Laboratory Screening
Homeless shelter settings are high-risk environments for the spread of SARS-CoV-2. 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 all staff and residents who have not completed their initial immunization series- either two doses of mRNA vaccine or one dose of Johnson and Johnson vaccine. This screening should be performed weekly as resources allow, whether or not COVID-19 cases have recently been identified in the shelter.
For additional recommendations, see Homeless Shelter COVID-19 Screening Guidance.
Resident interaction in the community setting outside of a shelter poses risks for introducing the virus into shelter settings. 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.
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 as much as possible. Specific recommendations include:
Recommendations for common areas
- Encourage dining and other group activities to take place outdoors as much as possible; this is especially true for dining since masks must be removed for eating or drinking.
- In indoor common areas, practice physical distancing whenever possible, including seating in shared indoor dining areas or other indoor group activities.
- Members of the same household can sit together indoors without distancing but should be distanced from other individuals to the extent possible.
- Stagger the schedule to reduce crowding for use of:
- Shared dining areas
- Common areas such as kitchens, living spaces, and recreation areas.
- Bathing facilities
- Educate clients and staff on basic infection control measures for respiratory infections, including hand hygiene, respiratory hygiene, and cough etiquette.
- Follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cleaning and disinfection guidelines for community facilities, and cleaning facilities if someone is sick.
- Place signs throughout the facility with reminders about hand hygiene, required masking, cough etiquette, and reporting any symptoms to staff.
Recommendations for sleeping areas
- Mats/cots/beds for clients who are not experiencing COVID-19 symptoms should be arranged so that clients lie head-to-toe relative to each other and are distanced as feasible.
- No physical distancing is required between members of the same household.
Management of symptomatic clients
For clients with symptoms consistent with COVID-19, testing should be conducted as soon as possible, and such clients should be isolated until test results are known. If such clients cannot be placed in individual rooms, ensure physical distancing from asymptomatic clients.
- 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