Plans to Prevent and Respond to COVID-19 FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions: Catholic Charities Plans to Prevent and Respond to COVID-19

Like many other health care providers, businesses and households, Catholic Charities and other emergency shelter and service providers are preparing for the COVID-19 virus. We are working closely with the Minnesota Department of Health, Ramsey and Hennepin Counties to monitor and prepare for the potential of an outbreak while keeping the safety and health of our guests, volunteers and staff our top priority.

This page will be regularly updated with the most accurate information. If you have a question that is not answered below, please contact Therese Gales at therese.gales@cctwincities.org.

General Prevention and Preparedness

 How is CC preparing for a potential outbreak?
We are actively working to prevent and respond to the potential spread of COVID-19, including:

a.  Establishing a cross-functional team of key agency leaders focusing on prevention, monitoring and responding to developments as needed.
b.  Evaluating our existing stock of hygiene and safety supplies for clients and client-facing staff across sites and restocking as necessary.
c.  Communicating prevention reminders and best practices across our sites.
d.  Regularly cleaning all sites with products effective against COVID-19.

These actions will continue to develop as needed with guidance from state and federal officials.

How can we help?
You can help Catholic Charities and all those we serve in three key ways:

Protect yourself. Practice the recommended hygiene protocols, isolate yourself if you are sick and watch out for your friends, neighbors and coworkers.
Donate. Simply put, our emergency shelter and support system is already stretched to its limits and we rely almost entirely on private donations to support this work. Your donation today will help us meet critical needs during these extraordinarily challenging times.
Advocate. We are calling on state lawmakers to fund the Emergency Service Program (ESP) this legislative session. These resources will support emergency shelter and related services across Minnesota, and are exactly the kind of funding that we need as we face rising homelessness and complications of the COVID-19 virus.

What will protocols be if a client or resident has symptoms or is diagnosed?
We will continue to work closely with the Minnesota Department of Health, Ramsey and Hennepin Counties to implement recommended isolation and quarantine guidelines in the event of a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19. Our planning to date includes identifying a range of ways our direct service locations could be reconfigured to create separate spaces to help isolate (as best as possible) potentially infected individuals.

 Will shelter services be shut down?
Our goal is to keep critical operations – including shelter and food service – open, even in a worst-case scenario. We will do this through preparation and though pragmatic and innovative planning. We will focus on guest, volunteer and staff safety. But we need community support. Decisions about potential changes or alterations to regular programs and services will be made based on the specific circumstances that present themselves and will be coordinated with our public and private service partners.

Does CC have the financial resources to implement best practices to prevent and/or respond to an outbreak?
Community support – including critical funding resources – will be essential to our ability to maintain service to highly vulnerable individuals experiencing homelessness. Implementing best practices and guidance from the Centers for Disease Control are important – and costly. This is a particular challenge to Catholic Charities and other emergency shelter providers, which are already stretched to our limits facing a homelessness crisis.

We are advocating for critical state funding this legislative session via the Emergency Services Program – this will allow emergency shelter providers across the state to respond to rapidly changing circumstances and increasing needs.

Private donations currently fund approximately 90 percent of our emergency shelter operations. Click here to make a financial contribution to support this life-saving work.

Residents, Clients and Guests

Is there an increased risk of infection among individuals experiencing homelessness?
People experiencing homelessness are particularly vulnerable to infectious disease like COVID-19. They often face underlying chronic health conditions that are not properly managed, mental health issues that may affect their ability to follow medical advices and decreased access to facilities for personal hygiene and running water. We are also seeing more and more older adults experiencing homelessness, putting them at a higher risk for contracting COVID-19.

In a recent New York Times article, medical researchers indicate people experiencing homelessness across the United States have a “double vulnerability to the coronavirus.” And, “once infected, the chronically homeless are much more likely to get sicker or die because of underlying medical conditions and a lack of reliable health care.”

Staff and Volunteers

What are the unique challenges Catholic Charities may face as it relates to maintaining direct services to a highly vulnerable population?
Typical best practices for businesses do not apply for many health care and human service agencies like Catholic Charities that serve people experiencing homelessness. We cannot suspend service or ask front-line staff to telework. Creating social isolation in a shelter or daytime service center is a challenge. We are preparing for high rates of staff absenteeism from sickness, school closures, government recommended social isolation, and fear. We are also planning for interruptions in supply chains including decreased access to hygiene supplies, food and personal protective equipment like masks. We also expect to see an increase in shelter usage in the case of an outbreak.

Our team is reevaluating existing procedures and working to find solutions to these barriers. Guidance from the Minnesota Department of Health, Ramsey County, Hennepin County, the Centers for Disease Control and the department of Housing and Urban Development have been incredibly helpful as we plan and prepare.

Should volunteers at Catholic Charities sites be concerned or take precautions?
As volunteers in our sites, your commitment to service is especially critical in these times. You can help with prevention efforts by following best practices to stay healthy and encouraging those around you to do the same:

• Wash your hands often. Use soap and water and scrub for 20 seconds. Encourage all guests to use hand sanitizer or wash their hands when entering the site and before meals.
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
• Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, throw the tissue in the trash. If you don’t have a tissue, use your elbow sleeve, never your hand. Wash your hands afterwards!
• Stay home if you are sick.
• Avoid contact with those who are sick and keep your distance (3-6 feet).
• Clean and disinfect public surfaces frequently. Effective products will be provided at all sites.
• Masks are not currently recommended as a prevention method against COVID-19.

Catholic Charities will continue to communicate directly with volunteers via email and our VolunteerHub site if there are any changes that will directly impact volunteers. If you need to cancel your shift, please notify us immediately at volunteer@cctwincities.org or 612-204-8435.

Catholic Charities has teams of social workers who visit elderly and disabled clients in their homes. How is Catholic Charities protecting these staff?
Staff are gathering key information through screening calls; this information will help protect both staff and clients who may be exposed or at risk of infection. Specifically, our staff are:

a.  Inquiring if the individual has been ill; asking if the client has a fever or symptoms of lower respiratory illness such as a cough or shortness of breath
b.  Inquiring if the individual or anyone in their household has been around others who have been ill in the last 14 days
c.  Inquire if they or a member of their household has had recent travel (in the past 14 days) outside of MN or to an affected geographic area (Affected geographic areas AT PRESENT include China, Iran, Italy, Japan and South Korea – continue to check for updated geographic areas on CDC webpage)
d.  For members in a group or facility setting, inquire with the facility if they have put any restrictions in place related to outside visitors.

For some clients, health assessments may be able to be conducted telephonically. Others must be assessed in person. Staff have been instructed to raise any concerns about individual clients who may be risk so unique needs can be discussed on a case by case basis.

Neighbors and Community

Is Catholic Charities still hosting events and tours at service sites?

Our top priority is the safety and health of our residents, guests, volunteers, staff and community supporters. We are following important guidelines from the Minnesota Department of Health and CDC to limit non-essential group gatherings, particularly meetings and gatherings at our program sites where vulnerable people live and receive services. For the immediate future, these events and tours have been cancelled while we assess alternative ways to connect and engage with the community. The Dorothy Day Breakfast, scheduled for Thursday, May 7, has been cancelled.

In the meantime, we are asking for critical community support – view a list of our most urgent needs and how you can help.

Therese Gales
Therese Gales

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