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Multnomah County asking homeless shelters to identify sick to help stop the spread of COVID-19

Multnomah County is asking homeless shelters to identify sick people and ask them to wear masks in order to stop any possible spread of COVID-19.

PORTLAND, Ore. — With more than a dozen cases of the deadly COVID-19 virus identified in Oregon, Multnomah County officials are putting a spotlight on protecting vulnerable populations. Chief among them: people experiencing homelessness in Portland.

In an interim guidance memo issued Monday, county officials asked staff and volunteers at local shelters to “identify guests who have a new, worse or different cough” and give those guests masks.

They also included a video with instructions on how to wear a mask effectively.

Officials then broached the topic of the distance health experts recommend people maintain from those infected with COVID-19: six feet.

“We acknowledge that most shelters cannot create six feet of spacing between each bed, and that guests interact closely in dining, restroom and other common areas,” read the memo. “The goal, then, is to separate individuals with possible respiratory illness symptoms (e.g., coughing, fever, shortness of breath) from those not displaying those symptoms. Attempt to maintain a six-foot separation between coughing guests and the non-coughing guests in sleeping areas.”


Officials added people with coughs or other symptoms should eat away from others and that shelter staff should “emphasize cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces like bathrooms, water coolers, desks, countertops, doorknobs, computer keyboards, hands-on learning items, faucet handles, phones and toys.”

They recommended shelters post signage describing “proper cough and sneeze etiquette” and make sure to supply soap, paper towels and other supplies needed to maintain good hand hygiene.

Finally, officials advised staff and volunteers to consider telling people to leave a shelter if they are coughing but unwilling to use a mask.

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