Homeless centers ready for potential coronavirus outbreak in North Texas

One population that is especially vulnerable to a coronavirus outbreak in North Texas is the homeless.

Given the close quarters the homeless sleep in, the risk of an airborne disease spreading are high as well as potential dangers for workers at the facilities and members of the general public.

The Austin Street Center in Dallas on Thursday was working to minimize the risk for everyone.

“Cleaning the shelter three to four times a day, high touch surface areas, door knobs, countertops and faucets,” said Daniel Roby, Austin Street Center CEO. “Anytime you look at infectious disease in a community, people at most risk are those who have experienced poverty, people that have experienced homelessness important to invest in those communities, make sure from a public health perspective that they have all the resources that they need.”

Roby said the center stocked up on cleaning supplies and masks for the sick ahead of time.  It also has new intake procedures -- screening more carefully for fevers and documenting where people came from before entering the center.

But if the coronavirus begins to spread in Dallas County, the center is preparing additional steps.

“Considering things like would we need to decrease our bed capacity, expand distance between beds, create more partitions between spaces where people sleep. All those things are on the table, taking things one step at time,” Roby said.

If someone is sick, Roby said the protocol is to contact medical professionals at a hospital and get the person the care they need while also isolating them from spreading the illness.

It is a concern Gov. Greg Abbott says the state has experience handling.

“Addressing this is not new to the state,” Abbott said. “When we were dealing with Ebola there was a homeless person who needed to be isolated, we’ve been down this path before.”

Abbott said the billions in funding authorized by Congress will help to pay for a lot of things, including tests and treatment for people who don't have insurance.