The following guidance is based on recommendations from the Public Health Agency of Canada in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This guidance is based on current available scientific information, combined with expert opinion from public health experts in the fields of:
- community based disease control strategies;
- infectious diseases;
- emergency management; and
- communications and ethics.
This guidance is subject to review and change as new information becomes available.
Read the corresponding document produced by the Public Health Agency of Canada.
Definition of a communal living setting
A setting where people who may or may not be related to each other share in common all, or part of, the living quarters. These types of settings could include:
- homeless shelters;
- youth shelters;
- women’s shelters;
- transition homes;
- safe places;
- group homes; and
The length of stay in a communal living setting varies from 1 night, to several weeks or months. Or, it could be where someone lives.
Communal living settings usually involve shared recreation, eating and washroom facilities. Sleeping quarters may be shared or separate.
Homelessness in the context of COVID-19
Many people experiencing, or at risk of experiencing, homelessness rely on community-based organizations, non-profit and voluntary organizations for a range of essential services.
The following recommendations are for the homelessness-serving sector:
- overnight emergency shelters;
- day shelters; and
- meal service providers.
People who experience homelessness may be at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 or developing complications due to COVID-19. They may not be able to access and use traditional services and standard resources. These circumstances may affect their ability to follow public health advice, such as:
- being able to effectively physically distance themselves from others; and
- perform proper hand hygiene.
Workers and organizations
Organizations, community health workers and volunteers play an important role in helping prevent the spread of COVID-19 among people who experience homelessness.
It's important that these service providers plan ahead and take precautions in their environments and workplaces. They should follow public health advice to reduce disruptions to their services.
To understand the essential requirements of your organization during the COVID-19 outbreak, consider reaching out to:
- the population you serve;
- management; and
- local governments.
COVID-19 is caused by a newly identified virus. We continue to learn more about this virus each day. Currently, evidence suggests that the COVID-19 virus is spread from person to person by droplets, in a way similar to the seasonal influenza.
Spread (or transmission) occurs mainly through being in close contact with someone who is:
- infected; and
- actively coughing or sneezing.
How transmission happens
Transmission can also occur after you touch surfaces or objects contaminated with the virus. Then, you touch your face (mouth, nose, eyes, etc.) before washing your hands.
Read this related document from Health Canada about the prevention and risks for spreading COVID-19.
Symptoms of COVID-19
People who are infected with COVID-19 may have little to no symptoms. You may not know you have symptoms of COVID-19 because these are similar to a cold or flu.
Symptoms may take up to 14 days to appear after exposure to COVID-19. This is the longest known incubation period for this disease. It's possible that people infected with COVID-19 will be infectious before showing significant symptoms. However, based on currently available data, the people who have symptoms are causing the majority of virus spread.
If you have COVID-19
It's recommended that you isolate yourself for 14 days. This is so you avoid spreading the disease to others, or until you have been cleared by a healthcare professional or public health.
Symptoms of COVID-19 may appear 2 to 14 days after exposure to the virus.
Severity of COVID-19
Like other viruses, such as influenza, COVID-19 infection in people can vary in severity from mild to severe, possibly death. People at an increased risk of more severe outcomes include those who have:
- compromised immune systems;
- underlying medical conditions; or
- are over 65 years old.
Most people with COVID-19 have not required hospitalization and have recovered in the community. If someone tests positive, these are 3 possible scenarios for the severity of their illness.
Around 80% of people who test positive for COVID-19 will have mild symptoms and can remain at home. Their progress will be followed by a public health nurse from the community health centre or Yukon Communicable Disease Control in Whitehorse.
Around 14% of people will have severe symptoms and will need to access acute care. Depending on their symptoms and the local capacity they may be cared for at:
- the community health centre;
- a Yukon hospital; or
- transferred to Alberta or British Columbia.
Around 6% of people will be critical. They will need to be admitted into intensive care either in Whitehorse, or transferred to Alberta or British Columbia.
Infection prevention and control education
It's recommended that operators of communal living facilities develop education programs for staff, volunteers and residents on the following topics:
- signs and symptoms of COVID-19;
- the importance of frequent hand-washing using the correct technique; and
- respiratory, cough and sneeze etiquette practices.
Education programs may include:
- Putting up posters and/or signage throughout facilities to encourage hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette.
- Discouraging the sharing of dishes and utensils unless washed between uses.
Should be designed to meet the needs of staff and residents, including consideration of literacy levels and language requirements. Information on signs and symptoms, hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette, physical distancing, cleaning can be downloaded here.
When cleaning communal living spaces, consider choosing products that clean and disinfect all at once. For example, premixed store-bought disinfectant cleaning solutions and/or wipes, when available.
Cleaning and disinfecting
Cleaning products remove germs, dirt, and impurities from surfaces by using soap (or detergent) and water. Cleaning does not necessarily kill germs, but by removing these, it lowers their numbers and the risk of spreading infection.
Disinfecting products kill germs on surfaces using chemicals.
Expiry dates and cleaning solutions
Check the expiry date of products you use. Always follow manufacturer's instructions including contact time. For example, the amount of time that the product will need to remain wet on a surface to achieve disinfection.
The Public Health Agency of Canada indicates that a 1-part bleach to 9-parts water (to make 0.5% bleach solution) is also acceptable for use against COVID-19. Ensure this mixture is prepared fresh. The contact time for this is approximately 10 minutes.
Use only approved hard-surface disinfectants that have a Drug Identification Number (DIN). A DIN is an 8-digit number given by Health Canada that confirms the disinfectant product is approved and safe for use in Canada.
What to clean
Surfaces frequently touched with hands are most likely to be contaminated. These include:
- elevator buttons;
- light switches;
- cabinet handles;
- faucet handles;
- countertops; and
Cleaning protocols and procedures
Review and develop protocols and procedures for cleaning in the facility. This will help determine where improvements or additional cleaning may be needed.
Use gloves when conducting environmental cleaning and disinfecting. If disposable gloves are not available, the next best option is reusable gloves reserved for that purpose. No matter what type of glove is used, staff should wash their hands before and after using gloves.
Use damp cleaning methods such as damp clean cloths, and/or a wet mop. Do not dust or sweep which can distribute virus droplets into the air.
Contaminated disposable cleaning items (like mop heads, cloths) should be placed in a lined garbage bin before disposing of them with regular waste. Reusable cleaning items can be washed using regular laundry soap and hot water (60 to 90°C).
In addition to routine cleaning, surfaces that are frequently touched with hands should be cleaned and disinfected more often, as well as when visibly dirty.
Shared spaces, such as bathroom,s should also be cleaned more often. Ensure washrooms are well-stocked with soap and paper towels. Users should be advised to flush the toilet with the lid down, where possible.
Clean and disinfect sleeping mats after every use.
Use care when handling laundry. Staff handling laundry should wear gloves and gowns. Do not shake dirty laundry.
If a client has been diagnosed with COVID-19 or is suspected to have COVID-19 at your facility, contaminated laundry should be:
- placed in an individual plastic bag; and
- should not be shaken.
Use gloves and a medical mask when coming into contact with contaminated laundry. Clothing and linens belonging to a client diagnosed with COVID19 or a symptomatic client suspected of having COVID-19 can be washed using regular laundry soap and hot water (60 to 90°C).
Laundry should be thoroughly dried and clean your hands after:
- handling contaminated laundry; and
- removing your gloves.
After doing laundry:
- Clean and disinfect the buttons on and lid of the washing machine.
- Clean your hands with soap and water, or an alcohol-based hand rub.
- Wear disposable gloves when handling waste.
- Waste from a symptomatic person (for example, tissues and face masks) and the decontamination process (for example, disposable gloves, cloths, and mop heads) should be placed in a plastic bag, tied when full, and then double bagged.
- Waste should be placed in a secure location until collection.
Health and wellness
Under ideal circumstances, the 2-metre (6-feet) distancing between persons should be implemented for sleeping environments when people are not related (an exemption would be, for example, a mother and child). This applies to dedicated sleeping areas as well as any "overflow" or additional sleeping environments.
Shelters not able to meet the 2-metre (6-feet) distance should phone Environmental Health Services 867-667-8391. They an provide support on how best to manage available sleeping space.
All other activities within shelter operations require adherence to the 2-metre (6-feet) physical distancing unless persons are related (for example, a mother and child)
Staff should role model physical distancing. They should remind clients and guests of these precautions as appropriate, For example, maintaining 2-metre (6-feet) distance and not shaking hands.
Stay home when sick
It's recommended that staff and volunteers be educated to stay at home if they are ill, even if their illness is mild. Staff and volunteers should only return to work when they're feeling well and are able to return to their normal activities.
If you become sick at work
Staff and volunteers who become ill while at work should isolate themselves in a room separate from others until they can leave the facility.
Staff and volunteers with chronic conditions
Staff and volunteers with chronic conditions should not be designated as caregivers for sick clients staying at a shelter
Monitoring and reporting of residents and service users
It's important that communal living facilities develop plans to monitor residents and service users for symptoms of COVID-19.
For example, all residents could be screened with a checklist type of questionnaire for symptoms of COVID-19.
What to do if a resident has symptoms consistent with COVID-19
If possible give separate rooms to people:
- with mild respiratory symptoms consistent with COVID-19 infection;
- who are awaiting results of a lab test for COVID-19; or
- who have been diagnosed with COVID-19.
If separate rooms are not available, consider using a large, well-ventilated room to put together people who:
- have symptoms compatible with COVID-19;
- are awaiting results of a lab test for COVID-19; or
- have been diagnosed with COVID-19.
In shared sleeping quarters:
- Where possible, beds should be located at least 2 metres (6-feet) apart.
- A head-to-foot sleeping arrangement can help to provide distancing between people.
- Consideration may be given to the use of temporary barriers in large shared sleeping quarters to separate ill service users (for example, curtains hung between beds).
If possible, designate a separate bathroom for residents or service users with symptoms compatible with COVID-19.
Practise respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene:
Residents and service users are encouraged to continue practicing good respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene. If people are unable to practice respiratory etiquette and if available, a surgical mask could be worn to reduce the risk of spreading the virus within the setting.
Who can support staff talk to?
Support staff should follow up with in house medical personal or Yukon Communicable Disease Control 867-667-8323 for support and guidance.
The number of staff caring for ill residents or service users should be limited where possible. It's recommended that facilities make arrangements to support residents or service users who are ill with supplies of fluids, food, tissues and waste receptacles.
Having adequate supplies on hand to manage an outbreak of COVID-19 is recommended. These should include:
- hand-washing supplies;
- extra linens;
- cleaning supplies; and
- personal protective equipment (PPE)
Information for staff and volunteers
Staff and volunteers should make attempts to maintain physical distancing as above.
- Staff and volunteers should make attempts to adhere to infection prevention and control recommendations.
- The use of PPE, such as masks, gloves, gowns, googles, is not recommended in routine shelter operations
- A regular mask can be provided to clients who present with respiratory systems.
- Only use Health Canada approved hand sanitizer.
- Do not use home made hand sanitizer.
If you're providing direct care to clients who have symptoms consistent with COVID-19, phone Yukon Communicable Disease Control 867-667-8323. They can provide advice on the need for and use of PPE required for this setting.
Closure of shelters
The Public Health Agency of Canada and Yukon’s Chief Medical Officer of Health do not recommend general closures of facilities such as shelters due to COVID-19. This would place an undue burden on the populations served by these services.
Any decision to close facilities, such as shelters, under specific circumstances lies at the discretion of Yukon’s Chief Medical Officer of Health and service providers. They will take into consideration the local situation and the capacity of facilities to continue to maintain service levels.
- More information on caring for persons who are ill with COVID-19
- An online self-assessment for COVID-19
- What to do if you have COVID-19 and have been advised to self-isolate
- Information on hand hygiene and cough etiquette