Staff and leadership with the Northwestern Health Unit will be working with community partners to help protect northwestern Ontario’s homeless population from COVID-19.

Medical Officer of Health with the Northwestern Health Unit, Dr. Kit Young Hoon, explains partners will be meeting to discuss enhanced safety measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in those experiencing homelessness or under-housing, before an outbreak occurs.

“With the situation happening in Thunder Bay, there was a huge impact on the homeless transient population. We’re looking closely at how to best-put measures in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 within that population.”

The Thunder Bay District Health Unit declared an outbreak of COVID-19 among those considered homeless or ‘precariously housed' on February 10, and has since opened vaccination clinics for the homeless population, as Ontario continues to prioritize vaccinating vulnerable populations.

Young Hoon says these new measures could include strengthened case and contact management, reaching out to those in need to provide them with masks and information, additional isolation spaces with community partners, and additional vaccine shipments that would be allocated to those considered homeless.

“By preventing the spread of COVID-19 in the homeless population, we’re protecting the entire community. There are groups where it’s very challenging to self-isolate. This would be an important way to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and that way, protect everyone,” explains Young Hoon.

The Thunder Bay area spent most of last month in the Red-Control level of COVID-19 restrictions before moving into a Grey-Lockdown level after Ontario used their “Emergency Brake” to try to slow the spread of the virus in their area, following the outbreak and rising case numbers.

Young Hoon says preventing a similar situation from happening in our region depends on the action of residents, and their willingness to continue following public health measures.

“COVID-19 cannot spread unless we give it a chance to. Although small gatherings are permitted in our area, I do not advise getting together indoors with anyone that you do not live with. The public is urged to stay at least 2 meters away from anyone who is not a household member.”

The NWHU is continuing to advise against any non-essential travel, especially to areas with a higher COVID-19 risk like Thunder Bay. Young Hoon says you’re asked to reduce contact with others for 14 days when returning from a high-risk area.

“If travelling for an essential reason, prevention measures must be practiced while away from home. Upon return to our region, you should self-monitor for symptoms daily and get tested and self-isolate if any symptom develops,” says Dr. Young Hoon.

She notes an added measure that Ontario has recently introduced is the requirement that household members of anyone with any COVID-19 symptoms must stay home until COVID-19 test results are known.

“These prevention measures may seem extreme, but they are a way to prevent widespread transmission of the virus,” finishes Young Hoon.

Anyone with COVID-19 symptoms, or who has been in contact with a positive case, is asked to self-isolate, get tested and remain in isolation until your test results are known.

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