Local homeless shelters and the Community Kitchen are doing what they can to protect against the coronavirus that can be particularly dangerous for those living in communal environments and with fragile health conditions.

“We’re just trying to keep a healthy house,” Davies Homeless Shelters founder Bill Davies said Thursday. “This is definitely different from anything we’re used to, but we think we’ve got a pretty good policy.”

A written policy sheet provided by Davies Shelters points out that although COVID-19 will be mild for the majority of people who come down with the respiratory virus, for those whose immune systems are weakened by HIV and Hepatitis, it can be much more dangerous.

According to Dr. Gary Voccio, the district health director for the Georgia Department of Public Health, his agency is dealing with a Hepatitis A epidemic in Floyd County and elsewhere around the state.

“It’s in the homeless shelters, it’s with people with drug abuse and it’s also in our jails,” Voccio told the Rome City Commission during a special called caucus Monday. “Our health professionals are working overtime to try to get Hepatitis A vaccinations to those subsets of people. So far, 20,000 Hepatitis A vaccinations have been given in Georgia to this population.”

Voccio stressed that not only are Hep A vaccinations important, but he urged those in the general population also get a flu shot if they have not done so yet.

Hepatitis A is a vaccine-preventable communicable disease of the liver, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Is is usually transmitted through poor hygiene or eating contaminated food or water.

In an attempt to keep guests and staff as safe as possible at Davies Shelters, they have implemented a stepped-up cleaning protocol by that includes an hourly wipe down of all commonly handled items such as door knobs, toilet handles, light switches, backs of chairs, stair railings, tops of alcove walls and tables.

“You will all be assigned an hour and will be responsible for signing off on the task,” the guidelines read, referring to shelter guests that have mandated chores.

Food and beverages will only be served by staff until further notice, according to the new protocols. Guests will no longer be able to go into the fridge, pantries, cupboards or cabinets.

All bedding will be washed with hot water and high heat to dry every weekend until otherwise noted, according to the new protocols.

“There is no need for hysteria or fear,” reads the bottom of the sheet. “We are staying up to date with CDC and medical guidelines for prevention. Please do your part to help!”

Capt. Jason Smith at the Rome-Floyd County Salvation Army said they also have implemented a variety of safety precautions at their shelter 317 E. First Ave., including repositioning bunk beds to allow for at least three feet between them and having guests sleep head to foot.

“We’re also undergoing extensive deep cleaning to ensure all areas are properly sanitized and taking necessary actions to implement social distance protocols,” Smith said. “Individuals who participate in the daily congregant community meal will receive meals in a take-out fashion with food trays to avoid that personal contact within our dining room.”

Portable hand-washing stations also are being positioned outside the dining facility and will be available for public use, he added.

“Should any of our clients or prog participants display any of the COVID-19 symptoms, we will properly notify the proper officials,” Smith said.

Smith said the Department of Health will be at the shelter March 26 issuing Hepatitis A vaccinations to anybody within shelter or who is there for a meal who hasn’t already been vaccinated.

“We want to ensure their safety and protection at this time,” he said.

Davies said Thursday it hurts his heart to also have to temporarily suspend the weekly Meals and More take-home food program on Tuesday nights at Rome First United Methodist Church for at least the next two weeks.

“Considering the age of and risk for the average volunteer and participant, this seems to be wise,” Davies said, adding the program usually serves between 40 and 70 people every week with a total of about 200 meals.

At the Community Kitchen at 4 Calhoun Ave., Director Drew Taylor said they are encouraging handwashing from the minute a guest walks in to the moment they leave the building.

He said they also are having diners take trays of food outside to eat. “That way, they won’t be in here with 80 other people,” he said, adding he just bought $100 worth of cleaning supplies.

He said they are keeping up to date with the latest developments and hope they can remain open throughout the growing crisis.

“We’ve never missed a day of service in 11 years,” Taylor said.

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