COVID-19 testing on homeless reveals no positive cases

COVID-19 testing on homeless reveals no positive cases
Medical staff from Sulzbacher and UF Health Jacksonville administered tests at every local homeless service provider in Jacksonville during the week of May 4.

 When it comes to Coronavirus, Jacksonville’s homeless population has been told it has a clean bill of health.

During the week of May 4, Sulzbacher partnered with UF Health Jacksonville to administer tests at every local homeless service provider including Sulzbacher downtown and Sulzbacher Village, Trinity Rescue Mission, The Salvation Army, Clara White Mission, Hubbard House, City Rescue Mission and both Urban Rest Stop locations. The testing came through a partnership with the national nonprofit Community Solutions. Jacksonville and Phoenix, Ariz., were the only two cities in the nation chosen by Quest Diagnostics where all homeless people would be tested for COVID-19.  

In Jacksonville, the group tested 679 people, and Quest Diagnostics confirmed that all tested individuals did not have COVID-19. Everyone was negative. The protocol for people who test positive is to isolate at home, however, people experiencing homelessness have no home, and group-living facilities like shelters cannot provide the needed level of separation.  

Led by Changing Homelessness, the homeless service providers were able to leverage their existing relationships with area hotels to provide private rooms for anyone who tested positive for the virus. Local hospitals were also able to discharge homeless people who needed to be quarantined to these hotels.  Initial funding for the hotels came from the City of Jacksonville Urban Rest Stop grant, along with funding from private donors such as the United Way’s First Coast Relief Fund.

Sign at an Urban Rest Stop for the homeless
Sign at an Urban Rest Stop for the homeless

A second ‘Pop-up’ Urban Rest Stop was established at The Salvation Army building on Church St. This enabled more street homeless to have a safe place to be during the day while having enough space to social distance. 

The group established a community homeless protocol that included medical screening at all shelters and both Urban Rest Stop locations. Both medical and non-medical staff pitched in to screen every person entering any of the agency’s campuses. Staff exhibited unparalleled courage and dedication – nurses, doctors and caseworkers in full protective gear reaching out to help, doing health screenings, taking temperatures, and setting up tents outside to do so. Using tablets and telehealth, frontline workers had 24-hour access to a Sulzbacher Provider if a patient needed to be escalated due to symptoms. The protocol included social distancing requirements, education from the CDC posted at all facilities, setting up two motels for those that needed to be quarantined, having staff available at the hotels and delivering three meals a day. The result of the collective effort was to keep the entire population of people in Jacksonville who are experiencing homelessness safe from the spread of the virus.  

Along with rest of the nation, Jacksonville is struggling with a severe lack of personal protective equipment (PPEs) for staff and clients. The collective group mounted a strategic effort to secure the needed supplies, leveraging every source possible. As the only provider with a health center, Sulzbacher was instrumental in securing supplies, including having volunteers sew masks at home, and obtaining donations of hand sanitizer from area businesses who had shifted their manufacturing to respond to the need.  At the beginning of the crisis, there were no tests.  The only people who could get tested initially were those that had cars. 

The COVID testing at each location was coordinated through Sulzbacher’s Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) in conjunction with each shelter. Both Sulzbacher and UF Health plan to publish research around this testing.

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