Homeless shelters conduct COVID-19 testing before volunteers return

COVID-19 tests administered at Shelter KC
Posted at 9:51 PM, May 26, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-27 00:17:13-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — As restrictions lift amid the coronavirus pandemic, Shelter KC on Cherry Street is working to restore a vital part of its organization – volunteers.

"It’s an opportunity for the homeless to engage with our volunteers,” Eric Burger, executive director of Shelter KC, said. “That they can send a message of love, they can send a message that, 'You're important, that you have value.'"

They took the first step by inviting Swope Health to test all guests and staff for COVID-19.

"Some baseline testing, to make sure they didn't have people that were just asymptomatic," Burger said.

The results for all of them came back negative, which was a testament to policies Shelter KC established at the beginning of the pandemic.

"We started saying, ‘Hey, you need to stay home with us,’” Burger said. “So we said, ‘If you're going to stay here, you cannot come and go.’ And we still could go to work, still do a walk, but for the most part [the policy] was isolating the population from other people.”

Swope Health brought its mobile unit for the testing at Shelter KC last Tuesday and the Salvation Army this week.

Julie Richards, director of infection prevention and control for Swope Health, said they want to make sure homeless shelters have a location ready if someone tests positive, rather than the individual being out on the streets.

"They are making sure that they are self-isolated for 14 days in a safe environment where they're going to get food and shelter,” Richards said.

Next Tuesday, the public health provider will test employees and more than 300 guests at the different programs offered by City Union Mission.

Meanwhile, Shelter KC plans to welcome small groups of volunteers in a few weeks.

"The bigger challenges is the longer this goes is getting people to all keep their guard up,” Burger said, “and so it’s that continual – 'OK? You're not in social distance because you have to do something, so you need to wear a mask."