Introduction: The unfolding COVID-19 pandemic has predictably followed the familiar contours of well established socioeconomic health inequities, exposing and often amplifying preexisting disparities. People living in homeless shelters are at higher risk of infection with severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) compared to the general population. The purpose of this study was to identify shelter characteristics that may be associated with higher transmission of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).
Methods: We conducted a cross-sectional assessment of five congregate shelters in Rhode Island. Shelter residents 18 years old and older were tested for SARS-CoV-2 from April 19-April 24, 2020. At time of testing, we collected participant characteristics, symptomatology, and vital signs. Shelter characteristics and infection control strategies were collected through a structured phone questionnaire with shelter administrators.
Results: A total of 299 shelter residents (99%, 299/302) participated. Thirty-five (11.7%) tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. Shelter-level prevalence ranged from zero to 35%. Symptom prevalence did not vary by test result. Shelters with positive cases of SARS-CoV-2 were in more densely populated areas, had more transient resident populations, and instituted fewer physical distancing practices compared to shelters with no cases.
Conclusion: SARS-CoV-2 prevalence varies with shelter characteristics but not individual symptoms. Policies that promote resident stability and physical distancing may help reduce SARS-CoV-2 transmission. Symptom screening alone is insufficient to prevent SARS-CoV-2 transmission. Frequent universal testing and congregate housing alternatives that promote stability may help reduce spread of infection.