COVID-19 Questions and Answers

Last updated October 20, 2020

Dear Shelter Provider and Congregate Living Community,

Thank you so much for your service and commitment during this time. To share information that expands upon existing MDH and CDC guidance for shelter providers, we are hosting a Q&A (question and answer) page that will be updated regularly based on what we are hearing from communities. Please note that this, like the MDH and CDC guidance, is interim guidance. We are attempting to move quickly and be responsive to urgent needs, but guidance may change as the situation evolves. If there are changes to questions we’ve already answered, we will provide updated answers here.

Answers are provided by the the Minnesota Interagency Council on Homelessness (MICH), Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS), and Minnesota Housing Finance Agency (MHFA)

Q: We are having a hard time keeping track of isolation versus quarantine, close contacts versus people who are sick, and who needs to get tested when… is there something that can help us know what to do when?

Thank you for your feedback on needing a tool to help know how to best advise staff and clients on next steps when they have questions about whether they can work and if they should get tested. We created the tool below to help! Not every situation will fit neatly into the scenarios we list, please reach out to the MDH response team if you have additional questions!

Q: Is there an example of provider-developed health education materials we can provide to clients and staff after they receive COVID tests?

Yes! See the following ‘after test instructions’ example from Catholic Charities.

Q: Is there a tool that can help us determine if staff should be at work or stay home when they are sick or may have been exposed to COVID-19?

Yes! See the following Staff Quarantine, Isolation, and Return to Work guidance from Catholic Charities.

Also be sure to reference the MDH staff exposure assessment tool when you have a case on-site. If you need any assistance assessing staff exposure or risk, don’t hesitate to reach out to MDH!

Q: Is there guidance for transportation?

MDH just released new Transportation Guidance for non-emergency transport. It covers general considerations, as well as specific recommendations for personal vehicles, multi-person transport, and public transportation.

Q: How do we know what the testing plan is for shelters and encampments?

MDH has developed Interim Testing Recommendations for shelter providers and outreach teams. The guidance applies to individual guest and staff testing, as well as expanded testing (also know as ‘point prevalence surveys’).

Q: What will it looks like if we have a case in our shelter?

MDH has created a 1-page document that walks through the basic steps of a case response in shelters. Shared here!

Q: Did the CDC update which symptoms to watch for?

Yes! People with COVID-19 have had a wide range of symptoms reported – ranging from mild symptoms to severe illness. Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus. 

People with these symptoms may have COVID-19:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Children have similar symptoms to adults and generally have mild illness.

Please consult a medical provider for any other symptoms that are severe or concerning.

Q: We are still having trouble getting our staff and shelter guests tested, can MDH create a letter for us to share with health care providers?

Yes! You are welcome to use this letter with health care providers.

Q: Are there guidelines for cleaning and disinfecting facilities and community settings?

A: Yes, there are CDC Recommendations for cleaning and disinfecting community spaces. These guidelines have recommendations for cleaning electronics, laundry, and much more.

Q: Who do we call if we think we have an outbreak of COVID-19 in our facility?

A: If you think there is an outbreak in your facility call the Minnesota Department of Health at 651-201-5414.

Q: How can we stress for people to stay in one place (not go from city to reservation and back and forth)?

A: Travel within the state is not currently restricted so if travel between the city and reservation is essential (e.g. to get needed supplies, for healthcare) it is permitted. Persons planning to visit public venues (stores, clinics) should ensure that they are practicing social distancing (keeping a distance of 6 feet from other people) and not going out if they are ill with respiratory symptoms. If an individual is having ANY symptoms of respiratory illness, they should stay home and seek medical advice from their physician, if needed. Specific guidelines can be found on the MDH and CDC websites.

Q: Our shelter is running out of masks and hand sanitizer, and when we try to order more everything is on back order. Who can help us with this?

A: Personal protective equipment (PPE) and supply needs should be reported to your local Emergency Manager(s). If you aren’t sure who that is, the County Emergency Manager Map provides contact information for every counties Emergency Manager.

Q: Are outreach workers included in the priority testing groups?

A: YES. Outreach workers are included among those who are prioritized for testing in Minnesota right now.

Q: What guidance exists for how to prepare and respond to COVID-19 among people experiencing unsheltered homelessness?

A: On March 22nd the CDC published new interim guidance for responding to COVID-19 among those experiencing unsheltered homelessness. This includes guidance on encampments, for outreach workers, and isolation housing.

Q: Are there any tips for outreach workers?

A: The CDC has published the following interim guidance for outreach workers:

When COVID-19 is spreading in your community, assign outreach staff who are at higher risk for severe illness to other duties. Advise outreach staff who will be continuing outreach activities on how to protect themselves and their clients from COVID-19 in the course of their normal duties. Instruct staff to:

  • Greet clients from a distance of 6 feet and explain that you are taking additional precautions to protect yourself and the client from COVID-19.
  • Screen clients for symptoms consistent with COVID-19 by asking them if they have a fever, new or worsening cough, or shortness of breath.
  • If the client has a cough, immediately provide them with a surgical mask to wear.
  • If urgent medical attention is necessary, use standard outreach protocols to facilitate access to healthcare.
  • Continue conversations and provision of information while maintaining 6 feet of distance.
  • Maintain good hand hygiene by washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or using hand sanitizer (with at least 60% alcohol) on a regular basis.
  • Wear gloves if you need to handle client belongings. Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer (>60% alcohol) before and after wearing gloves.
  • If at any point you do not feel that you are able to protect yourself or your client from the spread of COVID-19, discontinue the interaction and notify your supervisor. Examples include if the client declines to wear a mask or if you are unable to maintain a distance of 6 feet.
  • Provide all clients with hygiene products, when available.
  • Street medicine and healthcare worker outreach staff should review and follow recommendations for healthcare workers.
  • Review stress and coping resources for yourselves and your clients during this time.

Q: Does the current prioritization for testing in congregate setting include staff, or is that only for residents of those settings?

A: YES. Shelter and congregate setting staff are included in the prioritized testing groups.

Q: Are there any examples we can look at for how shelters are screening guests for COVID-19? 

A: Yes! A local example of a screening protocol has been approved by the CDC. We recommend you review the screening document below for steps your shelter can take. 

Q: Is the Interagency Council responsible for coordinating philanthropic asks, should individual organizations be doing that?  

A: Several philanthropic organizations have already indicated how they will support work related to responding to COVID-19, and more are likely to do so over time. The Interagency Council on Homelessness works closely with the Heading Home Minnesota Funders Collaborative and its member organizations, but that is by no means the only way that philanthropy is responding to this crisis, nor is it the only way that organizations may wish to partner with philanthropy in responding to COVID-19. 

Q: Can we use unused space (like public libraries) for outreach work/housing?   

A: We encourage you to connect with your local resources and public health departments to identify unused space for outreach work and temporary housing.   

Q: With public spaces closing, homeless youth are going to drop-in centers where there isn’t enough staff to cover the increase in population. What can we do? 

A: A recommendation from a participant was that drop-in centers reach out to organizations with outreach workers to see if they can deploy staff to drop-in centers.  

Q: Are youth and families eligible for the increased COVID-19 shelter capacity in Ramsey and Hennepin? 

A: In Ramsey County the additional capacity is for single adults, and youth over 18 are eligible.  

In Hennepin County specifically, the county has leased alternative non-shelter accommodation so that people who usually reside in congregate settings can isolate if:

  • Their health would likely be seriously compromised by COVID-19, but they are not suspected to have the virus. The priority for this group is people 60 years of age and older.
  • They have tested positive for COVID-19 or are awaiting test results (in this case, individuals are not coming directly from shelter but from HCMC or Healthcare for the Homeless).

Q: With emergency hotel vouchers, do you have any recommendations to do the screening? Most of our clients enter the night before and are there before we are available to provide a full intake.    

A. DHS has not seen any guidance from public health officials that would suggest a homeless motel voucher program needs to follow the same kinds of prevention/containment strategies as a congregate shelter setting, since households are typically being sheltered in individual motel rooms. The motel itself would be responsible for implementing any recommended COVID-19 protocols for any common areas, etc.  

However, as with any homeless program serving vulnerable populations, you may want to consider providing additional education and basic COVID-19 information to anyone who is interacting with the household, and to the participant(s) themselves if possible.  

Q: Since homeless folks can’t go to restaurant, libraries, local/community organizations, overnight public transportation, etc. due to closures, where can they go?  

A: Feedback we’ve heard from around the state is that this varies depending on the city/county. Some places are thinking creatively about how to use currently shut down/unused spaces for these purposes. During the webinar, shelter providers mentioned the new stress this is putting on drop-in centers and it was shared that drop-in centers can’t staff/keep up with the new numbers of guests. An outreach worker organization responded that they are currently working to redeploy staff and volunteers to drop-in centers and other places to make up for this. At this moment in time, we urge you to connect with local resources and organizations.  

Q: People were wondering if any other effective methods were out, perhaps from Seattle or other large cities that are “ahead” of us so-to-speak in regards to the outbreak?  

A: The National Health Care for the Homeless Council website has resources for homeless providers, including local solutions and strategies. 

Q: Do we know yet if the recommendations (staying 6 feet apart, etc.) being made are working and if certain populations are at more risk if they can’t follow the recommendations, such as the homeless?  

A: The recommendations for social distancing are based on a scientific understanding of how respiratory illnesses are spread. Social distancing is one of the recommended ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Shelters and congregate living settings across the state are working very hard right now to put systems into place that will keep guests safe.