Experts: Homeless population vulnerable to coronavirus

BOSTON — With constant reminders to continue social distancing, local officials say this is the exception recognizing the area’s homeless population may not have a choice.

The plan moving forward is to screen everyone who checks into a shelter and isolate those with symptoms at separate locations which could also mean isolation of others who have been exposed.

Entering another night, in an uncertain time, for those just trying to making it through the night, the coronavirus pandemic has added a storm of new anxiety.

Some who are homeless now wonder if it’s still safe to spend the night in a shelter in close proximity to others.

Dr. Miriam Komaromy, medical director of the Grayken Center for Addiction at Boston Medical Center, believes new ramped-up screening measures taking effect in Boston will help shield those at shelters from being exposed to coronavirus.

“They may have additional factor of being afraid to be alone being by yourself on the street opens yourself to hostile and violent behavior,” Komaromy said. “Screening is asking questions (such as) ‘Do you have a fever? Do you have a cough? Have you been exposed to someone who has coronavirus?’”

Those who answer yes to any of those questions will go to another location for testing.

A pop-up medical clinic is now in place behind the Southampton Street shelter to quarantine those with symptoms of COVID-19, with more of these temporary medical clinics coming in the days ahead.

One medical provider tells us tonight even with stepped up measures, he’s still concerned this virus could “spread like wildfire” if it makes it into a shelter, and worries what impact that could have on our health care system.

“If the COVID-19 started to spread in homeless shelters, we’d be in deep trouble," said Dr. Jon Santiago of Boston Medical Center.

Local officials are still waiting on additional guidance from the national level to continue providing shelter without folks being so crowded together.

“If we are in a situation where someone in our facility has coronavirus, we want to be able to isolate that person but entire groups of people," Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said.