CHICAGO — Officials are ramping up efforts to help people experiencing homelessness during the coronavirus outbreak by offering more than 700 COVID-19 tests each week to residents and staff of shelters across the city.
The news came Monday after Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced nurses will begin visiting every shelter across the city to provide in-person education and screenings for the virus.
The testing effort began last week when about 300 COVID-19 tests were administered to residents of Pacific Garden Mission. Located at 1458 S. Canal St., the shelter is on the western side of the South Loop.
Dr. Stockton Mayer of UIC’s Division of Infectious Diseases co-led the testing effort alongside Dr. Elizabeth Davis from Rush Hospital.
Volunteers and physicians from local hospitals helped screen and test patients, some of whom were already symptomatic. As of Monday evening test results were still being analyzed, Mayer said.
Facilities that involve “congregated” housing conditions, such as Pacific Garden Mission, are particularly susceptible to a COVID-19 outbreak, Mayer said.
People who are experiencing homelessness often have higher rates of co-morbidities for coronavirus, he added.
“We know that COVID is a disease that likes to really impact congregated living situations, a great example is shelters,” Mayer said. “This is a large congregant facility with people who have a lot of risk factors. That’s why we see it as a priority population.”
Dr. Allison Arwady, head of the Chicago Department of Public Health, echoed Mayer’s words on Monday.
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, she said.
In addition to deploying nurses and offering test kits to shelters, city workers have canvassed homeless encampments to identify and speak with high-risk residents.
They’ve also set up hand-washing stations at encampments and distributed personal protective equipment and sanitization supplies to encampments and shelters.
The city has partnered with other organizations like the YMCA to provide more beds and space for people who were staying at shelters.
The city has also supplied at-risk residents of shelters with individual hotel rooms. A participating hotel is Hotel 166, where city and union leaders agreed on a nightly fee of $175.
As of Monday, staff from Lawndale Christian Health Center, 3860 W. Ogden Ave., have helped move nearly 100 high-risk residents out of shelters and into hotel rooms, according to a city press release.
In his regular work, Mayer studies infectious complications of injection drug use at a clinic in Austin, one of several UIC Community Outreach Intervention Projects.
He said he’s proud of the “great team effort” between the city and the local health care institutions to protect those who are without housing during the pandemic.
“It’s an absolutely huge endeavor by the city to protect the city’s most vulnerable,” he said. “These are priority populations within their health care system.”
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