Created April 2020, Updated September 13, 2022

COVID-19 vaccination is the best way to prevent serious illness, hospitalization, and death from COVID-19. All Oregonians age 6 months and older are eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Where to get a COVID-19 vaccine >>

Shelters provide vital spaces for unhoused members of the community to rest, sleep, get a meal, and connect with others. People without permanent shelter may have medical conditions, substance use, or mental health challenges exacerbated by homelessness, and may not have adequate access to hygiene facilities. These conditions make our unhoused residents particularly vulnerable to the spread of infections.

The following guidance aligns with recommendations for homeless shelters from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

How COVID-19 spreads

The virus spreads mainly indoors between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet). This happens when droplets from an infected person who coughs, sneezes, or talks get into another person’s mouth, nose or lungs. The virus can also spread between people who are sharing the same airspace, and less often by touching surfaces that have the virus on it. People can be infected and spread the virus to others even if they don’t have symptoms.

What we know about how the virus spreads »

Prevent the introduction and spread of illness

Staff and volunteers

  • Encourage staff and volunteers to be fully vaccinated and boosted.

  • Staff should wear well-fitted masks or face coverings in accordance with CDC guidance and Multnomah County recommendations (see below).

  • Assure staff and volunteers do not come to work sick

  • Staff should wash or sanitize hands regularly, and try not to touch their faces. 

  • Staff should wear gloves when touching personal belongings of guests.

  • Staff and volunteers at high risk of severe COVID-19 (those who are older or have underlying health conditions) should not be designated as caregivers for sick clients or those clients who have difficulty keeping a mask on.

  • The CDC recommends that employees and volunteers who have been out sick (regardless of whether they were tested for COVID-19 or not) should only return to work when:

    • 24-hours have passed with no fever—without the use of medicine to reduce fever, and
    • Other symptoms have improved
  • Anyone with symptoms should test for COVID. If the test is positive, they should wait at least 5 days after symptoms first appear before returning to work. They should wear a well-fitting mask for another 5 days after they return (days 6-10 since symptoms started).
  • The local health department may follow up with those who may have been exposed to the sick person and make sure they receive the right information to watch carefully for symptoms and self-isolate if symptoms develop.

Mask and face coverings guidance

It is well known that many people with COVID-19 never show symptoms and that infected people may pass the virus to others before they know they are sick.

A well-fitted face covering can block droplets from someone coughing, sneezing, or talking before they know they are ill. It protects the person wearing it AND those around them.

State indoor mask requirements ended in many settings on March 12, 2022. Multnomah County will continue to require masks in shelter settings for the time being. Some people may want to continue masking in other indoor settings.

Masks and face coverings should fit snugly to cover the mouth and nose.  Simple ways to get the best protection >>

Hand sanitizer and hand washing

Keep hand sanitizer (minimum 60% alcohol) available near points of entry.  Washing with warm water and soap is as effective. Promote both. 

Make sure that you have adequate supplies for good hand hygiene, including: 

  • Hand sanitizer (minimum 60% alcohol) available near points of entry.
  • Clean and functional hand washing stations
  • Soap
  • Paper towels 
  • Trash receptacles 

Common areas

In common spaces and transit, minimize crowding in these ways:

  • Schedule staggered use of common spaces.
  • Stagger bathing schedules.
  • Space out units or dorms, when possible.
  • Arrange beds so individuals lay head-to-toe.
  • Stagger mealtimes.
  • Stagger scheduled use of shared kitchens.
  • In transport, limit people per trip, increase space between passengers, and open windows to boost airflow.
  • Create at least 6 feet of space between beds.


A person who is identified as feeling feverish or with a new or worsening cough should use a paper medical procedure mask or cloth face covering and be separated from other shelter guests until they are able to be relocated to one of the motel shelters for people who are symptomatic. It is appropriate to exclude an individual who refuses to mask and/or to be relocated.


Routinely clean frequently touched objects and surfaces such as water coolers, desks, countertops, doorknobs, computer keyboards, faucet handles, phones and toys. 


CDC Hand Hygiene Posters



CDC How to Wash your hands poster




CDC Clean Hands for 20 seconds poster



Cover your cough poster