Social Distancing: How It Affects Shelters and Day Centers?

Executive Constantine at a press conference on the morning of March 16

A New Local Health Order

To curb the spread of COVID-19, King County Executive Dow Constantine and Dr. Jeff Duchin announced a new Local Health Order that directs public health actions effective Monday, March 16 which:

  • Prohibits all gatherings with more than 50 people until further notice
  • Prohibits all gatherings of under 50 people until further notice unless they meet previously announced criteria for hygiene and social distancing
  • Restaurants, bars, dance halls, clubs, theaters, health and fitness clubs, and other similar indoor social or recreational venues must cease operations until March 31, 2020.
  • Restaurants and foodservice establishments may remain open only for drive-through, delivery, and pick-up only, until March 31, 2020.
  • All other retailers such as groceries, pharmacies, banks, gas stations, hardware stores, shopping centers, etc. may remain open if they meet Public Health directives from the earlier Local Health Order

What Happens to Homeless Shelters?

The Local Health Order, drafted in coordination with state health officials, was announced by Gov. Inslee and Executive Constantine at a press conference on the morning of March 16.  During the Q&A part of the press conference, the question came up as to what this order means for homeless shelters and day centers:

Jefferson Day Center
  • Public Health — Seattle & King County determined that shelters and day centers are not considered a community or social event
  • The Local Health Order that prohibits gatherings with more than 50 participants does not apply to shelters, day centers and other homeless service programs.
  • Currently, we are not recommending that homeless service sites close.

With the safety of those seeking services in mind, we have guidelines aimed at reducing the spread of airborne contagions according to the latest social distancing recommendations. Sleeping areas in shelters will have beds at least six feet apart to reduce potential transmission. To achieve the additional space needed to implement this recommendation, King County is adding temporary housing for vulnerable residents by repurposing different properties around the region.

More Temporary Housing

To achieve the additional space needed to implement this recommendation, King County is adding temporary housing for vulnerable residents by repurposing different properties around the region:

King County International Airport is using the Arrivals Hall as a supplemental shelter for those who usually stay at St. Martin de Porres, which gives access to a safe and dignified night shelter for homeless men age 50 and older. This temporary site will reduce the number of people at the main shelter to relieve added stress to this vulnerable population.

King County International Airport – Boeing Field

In Bellevue, the Eastgate Parking Lot—a property of King County—hosts a self-contained tent with flooring and heating. The shelter serves as an isolation and recovery location, which includes on-site security and health services staff.

King County Facilities Management Division has recently leased a motel in Issaquah with yet-to-be-determined services that could provide offerings such as medical care for people who do not need hospitalization. Hosting people here as a step-down from medical care can free up much-needed hospital space.

We are at a critical moment in this crisis that will take all levels of cooperation—from residents and businesses to local, regional, state and federal governments—it is going to take us all. As the situation progresses, we will continue to assess the resources and responses available to keep our loved ones and the community as safe as possible.

A note from Public Health — Seattle & King County

Homeless service sites should continue to implement the guidance for homeless service providers, noting the new CDC guidance to increase the distance between people (beds/mats/cots) to six feet. If your agency is reducing or modifying any of your services, please notify us at covidhomelessnessresponse@kingcounty.gov so that we can better track and coordinate available resources. If sites have staff/volunteers or clients that have respiratory symptoms, please call the Call Center 206-477-3977 to report this and for assessment for possible isolation or quarantine.

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