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How Spokane agencies for homeless are preparing for possible coronavirus outbreak

A spokesperson for the City of Spokane said they are working closely with health officials to modify procedures and checklists based on coronavirus triggers.

SPOKANE, Wash. — Earlier this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned that the spread of COVID-19, more commonly known as coronavirus, in the United States appears “inevitable.”

Dr. Nancy Messonier, the CDC’s director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said the virus is “rapidly evolving and spreading,” meaning that containment at U.S. borders is “becoming problematic.”

KREM reached out to local homeless shelters and warming centers in Spokane, whose leaders answered questions about how they are prepared for potential disease outbreaks.

City of Spokane

City of Spokane spokesperson Kirstin Davis said the Community, Housing and Human Services department is working closely with the Spokane Regional Health District to “modify procedures and checklists addressing shelters and feeding operations based on specific triggers for coronavirus.”

The city coordinates training with community service providers on public health and emergency preparedness response, including preventing the spread of infectious disease, Davis said.

“In October 2019, providers contacted by the city and others were trained by SRHD personnel regarding communicable disease prevention and response. SRHD continues to visit and inspect service provider locations for ongoing assessment, inspections, and prevention education,” Davis wrote in a statement to KREM. “The City regularly collaborates with SRHD on current public health safety efforts, including when our most vulnerable are at risk.”

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UGM and Catholic Charities

Conversations about how to deal with a possible outbreak are ongoing for local nonprofits such as Union Gospel Mission and Catholic Charities of Eastern Washington.

UGM’s Director of Ministries, Joel Brown, said its senior leadership discussed preparation for a possible outbreak in a meeting on Wednesday, adding that they are following protocol given to them by the health department to prevent the spread of airborne illnesses.

This protocol includes the use of surgical masks for sick clients and educating clients on proper handwashing and cleaning the facilities.

“We are contacting the Health Department to get specific guidance on any changes to this protocol that need to be made to respond to any cases of Coronavirus. Whatever guidance the Health Department gives us, we will implement,” UGM said in a statement to KREM.

Sarah Yerden, a spokesperson for Catholic Charities of Eastern Washington, says the nonprofit developed “extensive protocols” that are instituted throughout the agency following a norovirus outbreak several years ago.

Catholic Charities has built specially equipped quarantine rooms with showers into its permanent supportive housing complexes that would be used in the event of another norovirus outbreak at House of Charity, she said.

Yerden added that Catholic Charities is in contact with county health and fire officials to ensure that the nonprofit has the correct plans and systems in place if the coronavirus were to spread to Spokane’s homeless population.

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