Credit: Ald. Raymond Lopez/ Facebook

CHICAGO — Shelters for people who are homeless will now get visits from nurses to combat the coronavirus pandemic, officials announced Monday.

Nurses will visit every shelter across the city to provide in-person education and screenings for the virus, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said at a press conference. The program is part of a city effort to protect people experiencing homelessness, who have fewer resources with which to stay safe during the pandemic.

But officials hope the work being done and programs created now will last after the pandemic, allowing people who are homeless access to health care and other resources.

“What we’ve seen all too clearly are the chasms in our society when it comes to those who are vulnerable. They were in need before this crisis, and they are more in need now. We have to respond continuously to fill the void and address the need …,” Lightfoot said. “The work we’re doing now is building a foundation and infrastructure on which we will be able to address these issues in the longterm.”

Dr. Allison Arwady, head of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said COVID-19 can be hard to detect, spreads easily among people who are together and is particularly dangerous for people who are older or who have underlying medical conditions.

From the beginning of the crisis, Chicago officials knew those staying in shelters would be at “especially high risk” from the virus, Arwady said.

Hoping to combat spread, the city created the program with the nurses, has expanded testing among people in shelters or who are homeless and has taken other steps: Workers have canvassed homeless encampments to identify and speak with high-risk residents, hand-washing stations have been set up at encampments, personal protective equipment and sanitization supplies have been distributed to encampments and shelters and the city rented hotel rooms for people who are homeless and need to isolate.

The city has also partnered with other organizations, like the YMCA, to provide more beds and space for people who were staying at shelters.

Still, stopping the outbreak among Chicago’s homeless population has been “one of the most challenging aspects of this response,” Arwady said, and the city’s efforts are “long from over.”

“We won’t be able to prevent every case, but I’m really proud of the work our city has done together to protect people who are experiencing homelessness,” Arwady said. “Health requires a home. And the holes that our social safety net have had have real impact on health outcomes.”

The city also partnered with A Safe Haven and Rush University Medical Center to open a 100-bed isolation facility for people in shelters who need mental health and substance abuse help.

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