A study of SARS-CoV-2 at 14 shelters in the Seattle metropolitan area underscores the importance of active, community-based pandemic surveillance for homeless populations. The results indicate a need to provide routine viral testing outside of clinical settings for this vulnerable, hard-to-reach group.
“Individuals who are homeless are hard-to-reach populations; they may be less likely to access the healthcare system when they are sick. This study demonstrates that a strategy to do broad testing of individuals in homeless shelters is an effective way to identify new cases and prevent further spread,” said senior author Dr. Helen Y. Chu, asssociate professor of medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases, University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle.
The researchers looked at shelter characteristics that may play a role in SARS-CoV-2 spread among their residents and staff.
“Crowded conditions, communal sleeping, and shared hygiene facilities could foster transmission,” said Julia H. Rogers, lead author of the study and a graduate student in epidemiology at the UW School of Public Health.
The risk that people with asymptomatic infections could pass along the virus also supports the idea of creating a regular test strategy for shelter residents and staff, even for those who don’t feel sick. Many of the infections detected in this study were asymptomatic.
The findings are reported Sept. 15 in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
Other studies of COVID-19 in homeless shelters have concentrated on specific outbreaks. This newly released research began as an offshoot of