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As of late Friday morning, there were 119 cases of COVID-19 in Okaloosa County and 29 in Walton County, according to Florida Department of Health data.
Local officials say they are not aware that any of the 400 estimated homeless people in the two counties, have tested positive for the disease.
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Still, the Homelessness & Housing Alliance, which aims to eliminate homelessness in Okaloosa and Walton counties, continues to recommend all nonprofit groups that work with homeless people to pre-screen their clients, HHA Executive Director Sarah Yelverton said.
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The groups include food delivery and remote case management entities.
The pre-screening includes taking an individual’s temperature and following state DOH guidelines if the person has any COVID-19 symptoms. Transportation to a healthcare facility would be arranged for anyone who tests positive, Yelverton said.
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“We’re especially asking the shelters to pre-screen,” she said of area homeless and domestic violence emergency shelters. “Most of them are asking anyone new coming in to shelter alone for several days. Some shelters are not taking anyone. Everyone is trying to follow social distancing guidelines.”
Overall, only people who meet the criteria to be tested by medical professionals will be tested for COVID-19, county Public Safety Director Pat Maddox said.
“People experiencing homelessness are no different,” Maddox said. “If they are symptomatic they can seek medical care through the hospital system and will be tested if determined necessary by medical professionals.”
The methods of payment for treating any homeless individuals who might test positive for the disease vary.
“Some people experiencing homelessness have insurance — Medicaid, Lighthouse, etc.,” Maddox said. “It depends on their insurance status and level of care required. A non-congregate shelter plan is being evaluated if the need to isolate arises after a positive diagnosis is received.”
Yelverton said local hospitals are calling for hotel rooms for some homeless people since the shelters are at capacity or cannot keep individuals at least six feet away from each other per social distancing guidelines.
“We’re trying to put people who are medically needy in hotels,” she said. “We’re trying to prioritize those who cannot be on the streets right now.”
Donations to the nonprofit HHA help pay for the hotel stays with meals provided, as well as for items such as diapers, baby formula, sanitizer, flushable wipes and cleaning supplies for homeless people.
“The public restrooms are closed,” Yelverton noted. “The restaurant restrooms they used to use (to clean themselves up in) are closed.”
She praised the Florida Department of Emergency Management for doing a good job of asking the HHA and its partners about their needs.
To donate to the HHA, visit hhalliance.org or call 850-362-7429.