COVID-19 in homeless populations: unique challenges and opportunities

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Public health measures such as social distancing, hand washing and surface disinfecting have been implemented worldwide since the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak. However, vulnerable populations, such as those located in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, may find these measures impracticable to follow. In addition, essential daily services provided to those afflicted by poverty, homelessness, mental health issues and substance addiction face disruption. Although corrective measures such as disinfectant stations and emergency housing have been implemented, these do not address the issues completely. In this Commentary, published as part of the Special Focus Issue ‘COVID-19: studying the global pandemic’ in Future Virology, the authors propose an action plan for helping homeless and unstably housed populations during the pandemic.

Background

At the time of this writing, over five million cases of COVID-19 have been reported worldwide. Quite apart from issues around testing, personal protective equipment and ventilator capacity, several public health interventions are a key part of our response to the pandemic. In our city of Vancouver, the message is clear: stay home, stay put. We are invited to do five things: stay home if we are sick; stay at least 2 m away from others outside our home; avoid any significant gathering of people; work at home if we can; avoid nonessential outings. These behaviors have led to an unprecedented shift in societal organization and individual behaviors. Vulnerable populations, such as those in urban Vancouver, are both more susceptible to the disease and less able to implement recommended public health efforts, leading to the question of how to address the needs and safety of these populations during a global pandemic.

Read the full Commentary here

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