How The Coronavirus Will Affect The Homeless

How The Coronavirus Will Affect The Homeless

Keira McManus, Staff Editor

The coronavirus is deadly for the homeless people in Oregon and along the West Coast, experts say. Homeless people already face higher health risks and have fewer ways to protect themselves from infection or to recuperate if infected. 

Portland provides far fewer public hygiene facilities than people who need them, including stations for people to regularly wash their hands, shower, and clean their clothes or tents. In addition, shelters, day centers, and free meals are nearly all designed to serve lots of people in one large space, a perfect way to transmit COVID-19.

Brain Chan, a general internist at OHSU Hospital who works as a primary care physician at Central City Concerns Clinic, said many of his patients have the same medical issues as someone a decade or two older. Globally, coronavirus has largely killed people age 65 or older. Yet, homeless people are often considered to be geriatric patients, regardless of their age because of the harsh conditions they live in. Doctors at OHSU are deeply worried that if COVID-19 becomes widespread their patients in particular would be hit hard. 

Multonomah Countys Public Health Department has already started to communicate with homeless services providers, hospitals, and health clinics. While Oregons first coronavirus ppatient was diagnosed last Friday, county officials said they haven’t yet finalized their strategy on how to reach out to people living outside or in shelters or how to contain an outbreak in that population if it occurs. 

Homeless people in Multnomah County have experienced a surge in shigella cases in recent years, a possible example of what could happen with COVID-19. Luke Strnad, an OHSU infectious disease specialist, said that he saw a similar outbreak as in intern in San Franciso. These two cities struggled to control the spread of what is typically a rare diseases. 

Coronavirus also calls for a severe quarantine measures. Anyone who is infected or who has been exposed should be isolated with access to clean supplies, a place to wash their hands, rest, and have caregivers help them meet their basic needs. But for homeless people that’s impossible. Many face mental health and adddiction issues that make caring for their basic needs or observing quarantine procedures difficult. Strnad said that hasnt been done effectively for homeless populations here or in San Francisco, adding that he thinks thats why their public have struggled when any virus hits.