This report describes an investigation of coronavirus disease 2019 in residents and staff members from homeless shelters in four U.S. cities between March 27 and April 15, 2020.
The authors performed reverse transcription–polymerase chain reaction testing at commercial and public health laboratories for SARS-CoV-2 over approximately 1–2 weeks for residents and staff members at five homeless shelters in Boston, Massachusetts (one shelter); San Francisco, California (one); and Seattle, Washington (three). During the same period, the team in Seattle, Washington, also tested residents and staff members at 12 shelters where a single case in each had been identified. In Atlanta, Georgia, a team proactively tested residents and staff members at two shelters with no known COVID-19 cases in the preceding 2 weeks. In each city, the objective was to test all shelter residents and staff members at each assessed facility, irrespective of symptoms. Persons who tested positive were transported to hospitals or predesignated community isolation areas.
Overall, 1,192 residents and 313 staff members were tested in 19 homeless shelters. When testing followed identification of a cluster, high proportions of residents and staff members had positive test results for SARS-CoV-2 in Seattle (17% of residents; 17% of staff members), Boston (36%; 30%), and San Francisco (66%; 16%). Testing in Seattle shelters where only one previous case had been identified in each shelter found a low prevalence of infection (5% of residents; 1% of staff members). Among shelters in Atlanta where no cases had been reported, a low prevalence of infection was also identified (4% of residents; 2% of staff members). Community incidence in the four cities (the average number of reported cases in the county per 100,000 persons per day during the testing period) varied, with the highest (14.4) in Boston and the lowest (5.7) in San Francisco (2).
Given the high proportion of positive tests in the shelters with identified clusters and evidence for presymptomatic and asymptomatic transmission of SARS-CoV-2, testing of all residents and staff members regardless of symptoms at shelters where clusters have been detected should be considered.