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What’s homeless shelter doing about COVID-19?

People with a home can self-isolate; shelter cannot isolate patient

Volunteers work in the daytime to clean rooms at Illinois Valley Public Action to Deliver Shelter's Peru homeless shelter.
Volunteers work in the daytime to clean rooms at Illinois Valley Public Action to Deliver Shelter's Peru homeless shelter.

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What happens if someone with coronavirus shows up at the homeless shelters in Ottawa and Peru?

Public Action to Deliver Shelter executive director Carol Alcorn and her staff received new instructions from LaSalle County Health Department on March 13, and she expects more specific details to come in as the days go by.

But she does know one thing:

“We are not going to close. These people have nowhere else to go,” Alcorn said on March 15.

Approximately 30 percent of clients needing the shelter stay there for one to two months, and about 70 percent show up as circumstances force them to. For that majority, the stays usually last for less than three weeks.

So, PADS receives new individuals and families regularly.

The state has ordered PADS staff to interview any new clients or people who were out for a while and returning. The questions include whether they have been out of the country or exposed to the virus. And for all clients, the homeless shelter will monitor whether they have a fever and respiratory issues.

“If the answer is yes, you need to contact medical professionals immediately,” Alcorn said.

Testing must be done by medical professionals.

People who own or rent a home who may have symptoms, including fever, should call their family doctor rather than immediately showing up at the emergency room or walking into a doctor’s office and potentially spreading the virus to others.

People who have a home can receive instructions from their physician, and those instructions may be to stay home.

The homeless shelter cannot house people who have the virus. The shelter may need to notify the hospital and make arrangements to safely deliver the individual or family to the emergency room.

The shelter staff keeps areas clean and is always prepared to help people who have colds. Through the years, they have dealt with situations where they have needed to get help for people who have flu, hepatitis and pneumonia who may go to the hospital and receive instructions from there.

For common colds and allergies, the shelter keeps over-the-counter medications to help with common symptoms.

In the case of COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, PADS is not set up to isolate a patient or family.

“This isn’t their home; we don’t have isolation capabilities,” Alcorn said.

Alcorn said LaSalle County Health Department on March 13 still was working out potential emergency isolation plans for the shelter, as well as the jail.

If a homeless individual (or family) tests positive, the health department will take care of the isolation.

“They’re really scrambling to figure this out,” Alcorn said.

Normally, prior to this, if someone is sick, “we send them to the doctor or ER and let them get medication or dosed and let them stay in to recover.”

(The shelter closes in the middle of the day and generally asks that homeless people go to work or seek work during the day.)

PADS’ shelter has 55 beds in Ottawa and, after an addition that opened this fall, 66 beds in Peru. The Peru facility has four rooms designed for families.

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