With the school year effectively cut short and the remainder of their running season canceled, athletes from the Wellesley High School could have stayed at home this spring and on the sidelines of the COVID-19 pandemic. But not 18-year-old Jackson O’Toole and his teammates.
Individuals experiencing homelessness are especially vulnerable to COVID-19 and in Boston, clusters of cases have spread throughout homeless shelters.
In response, the Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Global Health, the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program (BHCHP) and the Massachusetts National Guard, recently joined together to test 176 veterans and 14 members of staff at the New England Center and Home for Veterans (NECHV) for COVID-19.
“The NECHV is an outstanding institution serving veterans experiencing or at-risk-of homelessness, providing tools for economic self-sufficiency and a path to achieve successful and dignified independent living,” said Geren Stone, MD, DTM&H, director of the Global Medicine Program within the Mass General Center of Global Health and medical director for BHCHP.
With public health resources for COVID-19 testing still limited, the Mass General-led initiative included providing lab resources to complete testing.
Stone believes homeless veterans like those at the NECHV are more susceptible to exposure and severe infection with COVID-19, as many of the individuals have chronic conditions which place them at higher risk. Additionally, the congregate style of living within the transitional facility also places them at higher risk for the spread of disease. The group’s goal was to identify all cases—including asymptomatic cases—and isolate them early to prevent further spread.
“The veterans were incredibly thankful for the support and the opportunity to be tested,” said Stone. “We need to continue to stay vigilant in identifying and isolating cases as well as working together with state and local authorities to decompress these congregate living settings where the virus can—and has—rapidly spread.”
“At the Center for Global Health, we believe that everyone everywhere has the right to good health,” said Louise Ivers, MD, MB, BCh, MD, MPH, DTM&H, executive director of the Mass General Center for Global Health. “Dr. Stone’s long-term commitment to the health of people experiencing homelessness in Massachusetts is just one way that we see his enduring dedication have impact. I’m delighted that, amongst the many activities Mass General is doing to combat COVID-19, there was overwhelming institutional support for this activity and a lot of teamwork to make it happen.”
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