COVID-19 Questions and Answers

Last updated May 21, 2021

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: Do staff and residents/clients still need to wear a mask in homeless settings if they are fully vaccinated?

Yes, CDC and MDH recommend that all people in homeless shelters (and similar congregate settings) wear a well-fitted face mask, regardless of a person’s vaccination status.

Q: Do you have an updated guidance document?

Yes, as of May 20, 2021 there is a new guidance document for homeless shelters and other congregate settings. You can find it here: https://www.health.state.mn.us/diseases/coronavirus/guideshelter.pdf.

If you are seeing old guidance, you may need to clear your browser cache.

Q: What is the quarantine guidance for after travel?

Refer to page 7 of Homeless Shelters and Other Congregate Settings: Interim Guidance for Providers for information on vacation or nonessential travel.

Q: Are vaccinated staff or clients still required to isolate/quarantine if they are symptomatic/test positive or a close contact to someone who tests positive for COVID-19?

Refer to page 4 of Homeless Shelters and Other Congregate Settings: Interim Guidance for Providers for information on COVID-19 vaccination.

Q: With the new quarantine guidance, does the 14-day quarantine requirement still apply to people living in shelters and working in homeless service settings?

Yes! While the CDC has provided an option for shortened quarantine for some settings, MDH guidance for shelters and homeless service settings remains unchanged. We still recommend a 14-day quarantine period for people who live in congregate settings and a 14-day work exclusion period for those who work in congregate settings.

  • The 14-day work exclusion applies to all staff regardless of where exposure occurred.
  • The 14-day work exclusion applies regardless of whether or not the close contact tests negative for COVID-19 (e.g. no test out).
  • Staff will have the option to shorten their quarantine period for activities in the community if the conditions of shortened quarantine are met.

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 released 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: What are possible COVID-19 symptoms?

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: 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: How do I notify MDH of a COVID-19 case or ask questions specific to our setting?

A: If you need to report a case or have questions, you can email Health.R-Congregate@state.mn.us. If the situation is more urgent, call the Minnesota Department of Health at 651-201-5414.

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: 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.