New research suggests that converting hotels into rooms for homeless people early in the COVID-19 pandemic helped limit spread of the coronavirus among some people considered high risk. File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo
Here's a social distancing strategy that really worked in the early days of the pandemic -- new research shows that providing hotel rooms to homeless people at high risk for severe COVID-19 significantly lowered their chance of infection.
In early April 2020, the city of Chicago made 200 rooms at a hotel available to homeless people in shelters who were considered at high risk because they were:
- At least 60
- At least 55 with any underlying health condition
- Younger than 55 years with HIV/AIDS or any other health condition known to substantially increase COVID-19 risk
The participants also received extensive health and social support services, and could stay as long as desired during the five months that the rooms were available.
"We saw that people in this intervention were 2.5 times less likely to contract the virus compared to rates among people experiencing homelessness in shelters across the city," said study co-author Dr. Elizabeth Tung.
She is an assistant professor of medicine at University of Chicago Medicine.
"It shows that the basic intervention of moving people out of congregate settings worked to lower COVID-19 rates," Tung said in a university news release.
But the other takeaway here is that this was an opportunity to pilot a model of temporary stabilization housing for people with high-risk health conditions -- we saw dramatic improvements in hypertension and diabetes control, and stabilization of mental health and substance use disorders. Over half of these patients went on to more permanent housing," she said.
"All of this has public health implications. When you think about how much time and money is spent every time someone ends up in the ER because they're experiencing homelessness and can't take care of their medical needs -- it's more expensive, it's worse for the patient, and you end up with terrible outcomes. These data show us that a medical housing approach could help," Tung concluded.
The study was published online Monday in JAMA Network Open.
Study co-author Dr. Thomas Huggett said, "Housing is health care and an issue of racial equity." He is a family medicine physician at Lawndale Christian Health Center, in Chicago.
"When we provide housing, people's health improves. There are fewer hospitalizations, fewer emergency room visits, and life span increases," Huggett explained.
"This intervention is part of that -- providing people with not just the housing but also the wraparound supports they needed, both medically and socially," Huggett said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on homeless people and COVID-19.
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