By Ryan Lovelace
May 1, 2020 —
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a new report for May 1 recommending homeless shelter providers take immediate steps to protect those in shelters given the presence of asymptomatic and presymptomatic coronavirus-infected people.
Public health officials detected a sudden spike in COVID-19 cases last month among America’s homeless in densely populated cities and were baffled that many did not show symptoms of the new coronavirus that causes the disease.
CDC gathered data on 19 homeless shelters across Atlanta, Boston, San Francisco and Seattle and found nearly 25% of residents at homeless shelters tested positive for the virus and nearly 11% of staff at the shelters tested positive, too.
The CDC collected data on 1,192 residents and 313 staff members at the shelters from March 27 to April 15.
“Given the high proportion of positive tests in the shelters with identified clusters and evidence for presymptomatic and asymptomatic transmission of SARS-CoV-2, testing of all residents and staff members regardless of symptoms at shelters where clusters have been detected should be considered,” wrote the CDC in its report. “If testing is easily accessible, regular testing in shelters before identifying clusters should also be considered.”
Boston, Massachusetts-area public health officials were among the first to discover the coronavirus in a small cluster of their homeless population and quickly tested the inhabitants of an entire shelter in April. Boston Health Care for the Homeless’ Dr. Jim O’Connell said of the 408 inhabitants of the Pine Street Inn shelter at the time, 147 tested positive, which was included in the CDC’s new report. Approximately 88% were completely asymptomatic and 12% displayed mild symptoms, he said.
Dr. O’Connell said his organization, which is federally funded and oversees Boston-area homeless’ health care, has helped administer the more than 1,500 coronavirus tests of homeless people in the Boston region, yielding more than 500 positive results as of Friday morning. Despite the relatively high infection rate, there have been a handful of hospitalizations, Dr. O’Connell said, adding he knew of only two deaths.
“We don’t really know what these asymptomatic and mildly symptomatic folks are really doing: Are they passing this onto other people who are very vulnerable and getting very sick, or is this truly a version of the virus that only causes mild illness?” Dr. O’Connell said. “I’m tending to think it’s not a separate strain of the illness, but there’s something in whatever’s going on in the shelters, either that they’re not getting the huge inoculament you might get when people are coughing, or there’s something that is protecting poor or homeless people for reasons we cannot figure out, but I suspect that those that are very vulnerable are going to get very sick when they get this virus.”
Dr. O’Connell said he is in close contact with his peers in Atlanta, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, New York, San Francisco and Seattle. He said cities must start paying closer attention to settings where people are forced to congregate — shelters, prisons and nursing homes — in order to stop the spread of the virus.
Concerns about the asymptomatic carriers may ultimately give way to better news: If the carriers never become ill, they may shed new light on the coronavirus and how to fight it. Dr. O’Connell said he hopes the federal government and academic community will help his community learn about the asymptomatic spread because such transmission of the virus may become devastating or it could mean fewer people will experience the worst of the coronavirus’ impact.
“When you have people who are usually poor and vulnerable in those settings, my guess is the only way we’ll control the virus is to be universally testing those folks and probably doing it repeatedly, and I think that’s going to be an important new component of how to control this epidemic around the country,” Dr. O’Connell said.
The CDC’s report recommends that homeless service providers apply social distancing guidelines including separating residents’ heads by at least 6 feet apart when sleeping at shelters and promote the use of cloth face coverings for all residents.
This article courtesy of the Washington Times
Do you have an article that you would like to contribute to