Created April 2020, Updated March 29, 2022


COVID-19 vaccination is the best way to prevent serious illness, hospitalization, and death from COVID-19. All Oregonians age 5 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 (CDC) »

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 

Routine symptom screening of shelter guests 

Please use the Decision Tree for Respiratory Illness, dated 2-17-2021 to identify if someone is a good candidate for entering a shelter program or for remaining in the shelter, or should be referred to a Voluntary Isolation Motel.  

Decision Tree for Respiratory Symptom Screening 2.17.21 (50.1 KB)

All new prospective shelter guests should be screened prior to entry, and shelter staff should be alert to guests with new onset of symptoms.

Anyone observed with a new cough or worsening chronic cough should be referred to a Voluntary Isolation Motel. They do not need a temperature check.

Make sure the sick person is masked and have them move as far away from others as possible while you call the Voluntary Isolation Motel intake worker at 503-318-9262.

People without a cough complaint should be asked if they feel feverish. If a guest affirms feeling feverish, check their temperature.

If there are concerns about a guest’s ability to perceive feeling feverish or their ability to communicate whether they feel feverish, check their temperature.

No-touch thermometers are available from the Joint Office of Homeless Services as needed. Disposable thermometers are also permissible. 

Both the staff person and the guest should be wearing a face covering or mask at all times, including while temperatures are being taken.

Anyone with a temperature of 100 degrees F or greater should be referred to the Voluntary Isolation Motel.

When tracking outcomes as guests are screened, use the following categories: “screen negative” (meaning no symptoms) or “screen positive.” Do not note the actual temperature or symptoms. This is personal health information and should not be documented.

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.

Relocation/Exclusion

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.

Cleaning

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

Resources

CDC Hand Hygiene Posters

English: https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/pdf/Handwashing-Middle-School-8x11-p.pdf

Spanish: https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/pdf/Handwashing-Middle-School-SPANISH-8x11-P.pdf

CDC How to Wash your hands poster

English: https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/pdf/wash-your-hands-poster-english-508.pdf

Spanish https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/pdf/wash-your-hands-poster-spanish-508.pdf

Chinese: https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/pdf/wash-your-hands-poster-chinese-508.pdf

CDC Clean Hands for 20 seconds poster

English: https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/pdf/HH-Posters-Eng-Restroom-508.pdf

Spanish: https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/pdf/HH-Posters-Spa-Restroom-508.pdf

Cover your cough poster