This document is for employers, managers, workers, and volunteers who provide services to people experiencing homelessness including respite sites, shelters, housing, drop-in centres, and warming centres.
COVID-19 is a contagious disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. Infected individuals can spread the virus through respiratory particles when they cough, sneeze, breathe, etc. People can become infected when they inhale particles that contain the virus or by touching contaminated surfaces and then touching their face with unwashed hands.
Inform clients of services that have been suspended or altered and any health and safety controls that apply to them using the most effective methods (e.g., posters outside the building, verbal communication, etc.).
When community COVID-19 transmission risk is high, consider actively screening workers, volunteers, and clients entering the building even if it is not mandatory in your jurisdiction.
Workers and volunteers that do not pass the screening should not be allowed to access the workplace or work with others in person. They should inform their supervisor and follow isolation requirements in their jurisdiction.
Clients that do not pass screening should:
Not be allowed to share the same space with others who do not have COVID-19 unless they are part of the same group (e.g., family members).
Be asked to isolate or quarantine in their own room or designated space for a duration required by the local public health authority or the entirety of their stay (if less than the required time for isolation or quarantine). If they cannot be assigned a single occupancy room, coordinate with community affiliates (e.g., public health agencies, civic and community centres, recreational facilities, faith-based organizations, hotels, and modular unit agencies) to find suitable housing.
Be asked to wear a respirator or mask indoors until they have completed the quarantine or isolation period.
If a client who has (or is suspected to have) COVID-19 stays in the building, reduce contact where possible by:
Avoiding close in-person interactions.
Instructing workers providing services to follow appropriate control measures (wearing suitable personal protective equipment, practising good hand hygiene, and physical distancing).
Asking clients to avoid interacting with others.
After the clients end their stay:
Ventilate the room (open windows and doors to the outside if possible).
Have workers who enter the room wear a respirator or mask.
Clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces (e.g., doorknobs and handles, taps, toilets, etc.).
Install transparent physical barriers between workers (and volunteers) and clients, where appropriate (e.g., reception, screening zones, food dispensing counters, etc.). These barriers should be tall and wide enough to cover the breathing zones of individuals on either side.
Spread workstations apart to maximize physical distance. Whenever possible, avoid having more than 1 worker or volunteer at a time at each workstation.
Reorganize the layout of rooms to maximize physical distancing (spread seats in common areas, beds in congregate sleeping areas, etc. as far apart as possible.) or reduce capacity to allow for spacing.
If weather permits and feasible, conduct activities outdoors (e.g., dining). Weather-resistant markings may be used to help individuals maintain physical distance.
Encourage workers and volunteers to:
Maximize physical distance (at least 2 metres distance whenever possible) from others.
Avoid physical contact with others (e.g., handshakes, hugs, etc.).
Avoid touching their eyes, nose, and mouth especially after touching shared items, high-touch surfaces or objects, or other individuals.
When the risk of COVID-19 transmission is high (e.g., high local hospitalizations or COVID-19 cases), consider implementing a cohort system (i.e., dedicated groups of workers and volunteers). Cohorts should:
Be scheduled to do most activities together, including work and taking breaks.
Be assigned to a single site or building, if possible.
Avoid mingling with other cohorts.
Reduce close contact between workers and clients by limiting or modifying group activities (e.g., reduce the number of participants, separate more vulnerable participants such as seniors, etc.).
For mobile outreach services:
Do not allow clients into the vehicle unless necessary.
Avoiding entering client housing (e.g., building, vehicle, tent, or other temporary shelter).
Provide services outdoors or under a portable shelter (e.g., a tent, canopy, or shed with few or no walls to maximize ventilation), if possible.
Avoid providing communal food or beverage services. Instead provide pre-packaged takeout meals.
If possible, assign individual equipment to each worker or volunteer (e.g., computers, office supplies, etc.). If equipment must be shared, clean and disinfect before changing users.
Install sanitizer dispensers in high traffic and high-touch areas (e.g., offices, sleeping areas, entrances, etc.).
Clean and disinfect high-touch objects and surfaces before and after use (e.g., pens) or at a scheduled frequency (e.g., doorknobs, handrails, physical barriers, etc.).
Clean and disinfect workstations before workers or volunteers change, if applicable.
Consider requiring that workers, volunteers, and clients wear masks if risk of COVID-19 transmission is high, even if mask wearing isn’t mandatory in your jurisdiction. Be considerate – not all individuals will be able to wear a mask (e.g., someone who needs help to remove it).
Consider the Risks
The risk of COVID-19 transmission is increased when individuals are exposed to several risks at once, such as:
When person-to-person interactions are longer and more frequent.
In crowded spaces, especially when people cough, sneeze, or exhale forcefully.
In poorly ventilated spaces with other people.
When people have inadequate hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette, or do not have access to cleaning facilities and products.
When shared surfaces and objects are touched frequently.
When community COVID-19 hospitalizations or cases are high or increasing.
When sick individuals are allowed to stay in the workplace.
When individuals are exposed to several risks at once.
When other risks are high and workplace health measures are relaxed (e.g., dropping indoor mask wearing requirements, requiring all workers to return to the workplace, etc.).
Consider all possible COVID-19 exposure scenarios in your setting and perform COVID-19 risk assessments. Develop or use an existing risk assessment form to document and evaluate all work setting characteristics, activities, and job roles. It is good practice to review your assessment on a regular basis to make sure your control methods are effective.
Sample questions to ask during a COVID-19 risk assessment:
Are indoor spaces properly ventilated?
Where do individuals gather?
What activities require interactions, communication, or touching shared objects?
How long, frequent, and physically close are interactions between people?
Are people able to maintain adequate physical distance from each other?
Which workers are at higher risk?
What are the high-touch surfaces and shared objects?
Do individuals normally participate in activities that create respiratory droplets (e.g., singing, shouting, etc.).
Are people expected to stay in an enclosed space for an extended duration?
Meet your legal occupational health and safety obligations by doing everything reasonably possible in the circumstances to protect the workers and ensure the health and safety the workplace.
To provide the highest level of protection to workers, use multiple public health measures and workplace controls in a layered approach. No single measure is completely effective alone. Be careful not to create new hazards or negatively impact existing safety controls. Review and adjust measures as necessary in consultation with the health and safety committee or representative.
Create and implement a written workplace COVID-19 safety plan supported by the risk assessment. A written plan may be legally required by the jurisdiction in which you operate. Refer to local authorities for details on what must be included in the plan, if it needs to be posted, etc.
Implement policies and programs to accommodate workers, particularly those who are at high risk of severe disease or outcomes (i.e., immunocompromised, have chronic medical conditions, or are older) from a COVID-19 infection.
Communication and Training
Communicate new and updated workplace controls and applicable public health measures to all workers in languages they understand. Specific training requirements and recommendations may vary depending on your jurisdiction. Allow workers the opportunity to ask questions and share concerns. Respond to questions and provide feedback within a reasonable time.
Train workers on COVID-19 specific topics such as:
Screening: keeping individuals who may be infected with COVID-19 out of the workplace.
Contact tracing: identifying and notifying people exposed to the virus and offering advice.
Screen individuals who enter the workplace, if required by your local jurisdiction. Consider having a screening program even when it is not required as an additional measure to protect your workers.
Determine which type of screening your worksite requires: passive or active.
Passive screening requires individuals to self-monitor and self-report possible illness or exposure to COVID-19.
Active screening requires individuals to respond to questions about signs or symptoms of infection, recent possible
COVID-19 exposures, or recent travel outside of Canada.
Allow individuals that pass the screening to access the workplace. Deny access to anyone who does not pass the screening.
Have workers who do not pass the screening contact their supervisor. The supervisor should instruct them to return (or stay) home and follow local public health guidance which may include isolation, testing for COVID-19, or contacting their healthcare provider or public health authority.
Determine if you are required to implement contact tracing. If so, maintain a list of all individuals (for which contact tracing applies) entering the workplace, including their names, contact information, and time spent in the workplace. This information should be provided to the local public health authority if requested for the purpose of contact tracing. All information must be safely stored and destroyed as required by privacy legislation.
For additional information on screening and contact tracing, refer to:
Ventilate indoor spaces appropriately according to the number of occupants and types of activities.
Open windows and doors to the outside, if possible.
Maintain ventilation systems and seek advice from a ventilation specialist on possible improvements (e.g., increasing air exchanges per hour, reducing or eliminating recirculated air, or upgrading to air filtration and disinfection).
If possible, run ventilation systems continuously or for two hours before and after buildings are occupied.
Run local exhaust fans that vent to the outside to help remove contaminated air.
Make sure that air circulation or cooling fans do not direct air flow from person to person.
If ventilation cannot be improved, consider using portable air filtration units with high-efficiency particulate (HEPA) filters.
Keep indoor humidity between 30% and 50%.
For additional information on indoor ventilation, refer to:
PPE includes such items as respirators, medical masks, eye protection, gloves, and safety footwear.
Eye protection (safety glasses, goggles, or face shields) may be worn in addition to a mask when in close physical contact with others. Note: face shields do not provide respiratory protection and cannot replace masks.
COVID-19 PPE policies must not interfere when a higher level of protection is needed for a task.
Workers may need PPE for COVID-19 protection if they are:
Performing tasks that require them to be less than 2 metres from another person.
Using cleaning and disinfecting products (refer to the manufacturers’ safe handling instructions).
Follow the mask wearing requirements of your local jurisdiction. If not required, mask wearing should be encouraged as an additional measure when there is a high risk for COVID-19 spread, or when physical distancing is not possible.
Masks should be comfortable, well-constructed and well-fitting, covering the nose, mouth, and chin.
Consider using masks with a transparent window when communicating with people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
Masks should not be worn by anyone who is unable to remove it without assistance (e.g., due to their age, ability, or developmental status).
Allow workers to wear masks, even if not required, based on their discretion (e.g., being at risk of more severe disease, working in crowded setting, etc.).
Immediately have them wear a mask (preferably a respirator or medical mask, or if neither is available, a well-constructed and well-fitting non-medical mask). A respirator used in this way (i.e., as source control) may not need to be fit tested.
Have them leave as soon as possible.
If they cannot immediately leave, have them isolate in a designated area, away from others, until they can leave.
Call 911 for medical assistance if symptoms are life threatening. If it is a worker, notify their emergency contact.
Complete an incident report and begin an investigation.
Refer to guidance from your local public health authority to determine when the worker can return to work.
Consider updating your sick leave policy to provide support to workers who are or may be sick. Support may include paid or unpaid sick leave, long-term disability, and information on government programs, if available.
Note that this guidance is just some of the adjustments organizations can make during a pandemic. Adapt this list by adding your own good practices and policies to meet your organization’s specific needs.
Disclaimer: As public and occupational health and safety information is changing rapidly, local public health authorities should be consulted for specific, regional guidance. This information is not intended to replace medical advice or legislated health and safety obligations. Although every effort is made to ensure the accuracy, currency and completeness of the information, CCOHS does not guarantee, warrant, represent or undertake that the information provided is correct, accurate or current. CCOHS is not liable for any loss, claim, or demand arising directly or indirectly from any use or reliance upon the information.