Coronavirus Outbreak Forces Homeless Shelters To Adapt As Needs Rise

Mar 24, 2020

On today's program: How one homeless shelter is coping during the pandemic; why UPMC says elective procedures should proceed, even as resources remain tight; and farmers are declared life-sustaining, but it’s unclear where they can sell their food.

 

Taking precautions while still caring for Pittsburgh’s street population
(00:00 — 08:06) 

Allegheny County is now one of seven Pennsylvania counties under a “shelter at home” order due to the coronavirus. That poses a particular challenge for residents who don’t have stable housing. 

Jay Poliziani, executive director of Northside Common Ministries, says the threat of COVID-19 has changed how the group operates their homeless shelter. Before the outbreak, 28 overnight residents would leave during the day, but now staff is encouraging those men to stay inside as much as possible.

Poliziani says they have also made major changes to their drop-in center, where as many as 60 people come daily to take a shower, clean their laundry and eat a hot meal. 

“We are screening them at the door for any signs of virus,” he says. “The individuals are allowed in for showers and laundry still, but we ask them to leave immediately.” People can come back later to receive a bagged lunch.

Poliziani expects the need for homeless shelters to rise as some jails and halfway houses release non-violent offenders. He says Northside Common Ministries has already had to turn away some individuals as a result of overcapacity.

UPMC continues elective, or non-emergent, procedures
(08:09 — 13:49)

Scheduled procedures like biopsies, hernia repair and heart valve replacements are continuing at UPMC facilities, despite urging by state and county health officials to conserve resources ahead of a potential coronavirus surge. It's a strange calculus, WESA's Sarah Boden says.

"There's a value in doing these surgeries now because we don't know how long our hospital system will be backed up. It may be a really really long time, and are you just supposed to live in pain? It's a very difficult choice."

Dr. Donald Yealy, UPMC's chair of emergency medicine, says the system has "adequate protective equipment for all types of care" and is screening both patients and health care workers who may be infected.

"We carefully created guidelines to help guide individual physicians and their patients about how to change care plans," he says. "We’ve had lots of cases already that have been deferred or canceled, so in fact the perception that nothing has changed at all is inaccurate. Patients and physicians together have already made a great many changes.”

The system’s medical director for infection prevention, Dr. Graham Snyder, says that while he supports continuing a reduced, if active, surgical schedule for now, that could change if the virus spreads. 

“This is not Northern Italy. We are not Wuhan right now. In Pgh, this is an area of relative calm compared to where outbreaks are happening.”

Farmers declared life sustainers, but unsure of where to bring their product
(13:52 — 18:00)

Restaurants and bars in Pennsylvania have either shut down or moved to a take-out only business model in the last week as part of an effort to minimize crowds and prevent the spread of the coronavirus, but food producers like farmers and distributors are trying to continue as close to normal after being declared by the Wolf administration to be “essential businesses.”

The Allegheny Front’s Julie Grant reports farmers continue to work but under new guidance from the state agriculture department. While allowing farmers markets to continue, it’s asking for safety precautions that could include new pick up options or direct deliveries to customers.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.