An hour outside of Daytona, Florida, a young married couple from northern California is stranded, far from home in a pandemic. Jobless, broke, and scared of the increasing dangers of the novel coronavirus, they reached out to local homeless shelters in early March, and were repeatedly given a shocking answer: The shelters could ONLY house COVID-19-positive people. For nearly two months now, they’ve lived out of their broken-down car and a tent.
It’s a tragic choice, but given the circumstances, it made sense for shelters at the time, and even now. Many shelters, especially those with open floor plans—think an auditorium with beds—don’t have the ability to separate the infected from the uninfected. Even those shelters with the capacity to segregate populations can’t do so without enough testing. Shelters, like prisons, jails, and detainment camps, can be a breeding ground for any infection; if shelter operators knew their residents had the novel coronavirus, they could, in theory, narrow containment and disinfection efforts. Yet those people without shelter and without COVID-19 are often left with no place to go.