For months, DC has offered hotels as quarantine spots for homeless individuals. As cases rise in the city, they’re seeing more people looking for health care help.
WASHINGTON — As coronavirus cases continue to increase in DC, the homeless population is feeling the effects.
“Housing is health care and when people have a stable place to live, they are better able to take care of themselves,” nurse practitioner Carolyn Summer said.
Nearly 10,000 Washingtonians are considered “literally homeless,” however, per the city’s point-in-time annual count. The number has been on a steady decline over the years, but Summer said anyone without a home to isolate is particularly at risk during the pandemic.
She has been working with Unity Health Care to treat vulnerable individuals throughout the pandemic. She said DC has established a few hotels throughout the District as two different types of emergency response sites. Summer serves as the Assistant Medical Director for the sites.
One type is an isolation and quarantine center (ISAQ) to house individuals who were exposed to COVID or tested positive and are homeless or do not have a place to quarantine themselves. The other center is called a Pandemic Emergency Program for Vulnerable Individuals, or PEPVI, which provides a home to individuals who are homeless and at the highest risk of developing severe symptoms if they contract the virus.
“It’s helping those individuals, but it’s also de-densifying the shelters, so if there’s an outbreak in a shelter, there’s less people who could be infected, and just sort of reducing community spread as well,” Summer said. “And, because these folks are highly vulnerable, it prevents them from being hospitalized and taking up an ICU bed and straining the resources of the city.”
Summer said at this point in time, there are about 100 individuals in the ISAQ center, and the PEPVI hotels have a maximum capacity of about 800.
She said those who are exposed have to quarantine for 14 days in the ISAQ hotel, while those who tested positive can be released 10 days after a positive test and after three days without a fever. She said often, they transfer to PEPVI hotels if they meet the stringent requirements. Otherwise, they will have to return to their prior living arrangement.
“We’re definitely down from where we were back in March, April, May, which is great, but we are seeing our numbers creep up a little bit as numbers creep up in the city more recently,” Summer said.
For the homeless population now living in the PEPVI hotels, she said the pandemic has offered a silver lining.
“Blood pressures are getting more under control, diabetes is getting under control,” she said. “So in addition to keeping people safe from COVID, we’re hopefully improving their health overall.”
When it comes to the vaccine, Summer believes the homeless population and people living in congregant settings should be second in line to receive the shot after front line workers to help stem community spread.