COVID-19 Questions and Answers

Last updated February 25, 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: What is the quarantine guidance if staff or clients travel out of state?

If you are sick or have tested positive for COVID-19, do not travel. Out-of-state travel is highly discouraged.

  • People visiting or returning from travel out of state are asked to stay away from others (quarantine) for 14 days after they arrive in Minnesota, even people who have gotten a COVID-19 vaccine.
  • During those 14 days, it is important that you stay home and watch for symptoms. If you must go out, wear a mask, stay 6 feet from other people, and wash your hands often.

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?

Sometimes!

If someone has completed COVID-19 vaccination (two doses in a two dose series or one dose in a one-dose series) and is exposed, they do not need to quarantine if ALL of the following are true:

  • The COVID-19 exposure was at least 14 days after their vaccination series was fully completed.
  • The COVID-19 exposure was within 90 days of their final dose of the vaccination series.
  • They do not currently have any symptoms of COVID-19.

If someone meets the vaccination criteria above and needs to isolate, they should complete a full isolation period.

If someone has not started or does not meet the above criteria for COVID-19 vaccination, they should follow existing MDH guidance on how long to:

  • Isolate if they are symptomatic/test positive
  • Quarantine if they are a close contact (14 days since last exposure)

MDH and CDC continue to closely monitor the evolving science for information that would warrant changes to the recommendations for quarantine of close contacts. Changes to guidance will be posted here and shared on upcoming Wednesday Provider calls.

MDH is in the process of updating their guidance documents to reflect these changes.

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.

MDH is in the process of updating their guidance documents to reflect these changes.

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: 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. 

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: 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.