Oregon’s homeless at risk for coronavirus


The crowded conditions in which the homeless live make them more susceptible to the virus

File image (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Multnomah County officials have raised concerns over the possibility of the coronavirus rapidly spreading among the region’s homeless population.

Because the first locally-transmitted cases of novel coronavirus have emerged in part of the country with a disproportionately large percentage of people sleeping outdoors or in shelters, there is a growing concern the number of infected people could significantly increase, according to a report by Willamette Week.

Multnomah County spokeswoman Julie Sullivan-Springhetti told WW the crowded conditions in which the homeless live make them more susceptible to contracting the virus. Furthermore, untreated medical conditions and substance abuse among members of the homeless population can make diagnoses and treatment even more challenging.

Officials are still in the early phase of compiling ideas on to handle the virus’ impact on the area’s most vulnerable, like the homeless. Representatives from the Joint Office of Homeless Services, the Portland Bureau of Emergency Management and Multnomah County Public Health were briefed on the situation Saturday by tri-county health officer Jennifer Vines. The group also spoke with shelter and other service providers to discuss procedures for handling those who become infected as well as efficient ways of providing information, according to WW.

Washington state’s King County said it is also exploring options for protecting the spread of the virus among the homeless, according to The Seattle Times. The move followed the first reported death in the U.S. from COVID-19, which took place at a hospital in Kirkland, a suburb of Seattle.

Multnomah county officials said they plan to meet Tuesday and develop more detailed strategy.

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