IHA and local municipalities work to keep COVID-19 away from the street-entrenched | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Kamloops News

IHA and local municipalities work to keep COVID-19 away from the street-entrenched

FILE PHOTO - Vernon's Linear Park.

One of the most overlooked populations is now in focus as citizens and officials ask: How do we make sure the homeless population doesn’t contract and carry COVID-19?

Interior Health is monitoring the region’s street-entrenched population, although some medical experts believe they may be somewhat safe from the potentially deadly disease, thanks to exposure to sunlight and lack of exposure to people who may have travelled. Regardless, monitoring these groups is now underway.

In this release, Interior Health says testing is specifically recommended for certain groups of people experiencing respiratory symptoms or shortness of breath, such as health care workers, essential service workers, people returning to Canada and those who may live or work in communal areas, like prisons or group homes. Included in that list of people are those with unstable or non-existent housing.

Now, centres in Kamloops, Kelowna, Vernon and Penticton are able to test homeless people without any referral from a doctor.

Karl Hardt, a senior communications consultant with Interior Health Authority, says street nurses and local outreach organizations are assessing and testing the homeless population as needed and will continue to do so as long as the virus is a threat. He says five street-entrenched people have been tested in Kamloops, but the results are not yet known.

“People who are experiencing homelessness or who have unstable housing have been identified by the (B.C. Centre for Disease Control) as a priority testing group if they have respiratory symptoms. This recognizes that a significant outbreak in this population would create pressures on our services, as these individuals often don’t have a safe place to recover when they do get ill,” Hardt says in an email to iNFOnews.ca.

Lack of spaces is something that the City of Kamloops is working to address during this pandemic. Shelters have removed some beds to adhere to social distancing orders, so a temporary shelter at 185 Royal Avenue is slated to open next week. If there are too many people using the service, Memorial Arena will become the primary shelter.

“We need to be prepared to support these members of our community at any stage of COVID-19: from prevention to treatment and recovery,” says Kamloops mayor Ken Christian in a media release. “This population has a high proportion of immune-compromised individuals and their inability to self-isolate poses a risk to themselves and those around them.”

The City is also opening up all public washrooms with access to hot water and has worked to extend hours for shower, washroom and laundry facilities at the Cllémentem Mini-Storage. The services will now be available seven days a week from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and can be accessed at 48 Victoria Street West. 

To contact a reporter for this story, email Jenna Wheeler or call (250) 819-6089 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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