COVID-19: Communal Living

This information in intended for homeless shelters, drop-ins, respite centres and other communal living arrangements. Facility operators and leaders provide much-needed services. There are steps that they can take to prepare and protect the people that rely on their services and the staff and volunteers working there.  Because every setting is unique and users of facilities are diverse, the Thunder Bay District Health Unit is providing these tips and resources to help organizations assess their needs and identify precautions to take.

Guidance specific to group homes and co-living situations is available from the Government of Ontario.


Infection Prevention and Control Measures

In addition to general infection prevention and control measures that should be followed, below are additional ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19.


Promote Safer Drug Use 

  • Talk with harm reduction partners about continuity of harm reduction supplies and addiction services for your clients.
  • Encourage clients not to share items that come into contact with the mouth or nose (e.g. drug use equipment, cigarettes).
  • Share information on safer drug use during the COVID-19 outbreak (PDF).
  • Plan and prepare for involuntary withdrawal or overdose if it occurs in your setting.

Printable Resources



Manage and Isolate Symptomatic Individuals

  • Coordinate with local stakeholders and public health to maximize capacity to support clients in the shelter system who will need to self-isolate.
  • Symptomatic staff, volunteers and clients in shelters are included in priority groups for COVID-19 testing in Ontario. Anyone referred to the Assessment Centre should advise health care workers that they use or work at a shelter.
  • If a client screens positive, follow isolation protocols established for your local setting, to support clients to safely isolate themselves.
  • If a client screens positive (i.e. is symptomatic or has been exposed to a case of COVID-19 in the past 14 days), instruct the client to wear a mask and use hand sanitizer. Place the client in a separate room or area to avoid contact with others. Clients who screen positive may be moved to an alternate shelter location set up for isolation and monitoring.
  • Staff should try to maintain physical distance (2 metres or more) while monitoring and providing assistance to these clients. If close contact is required, staff should wear appropriate personal protective equipment (mask and gloves at a minimum).
  • If individual rooms for unwell clients are not available, consider using a large, well-ventilated room to cohort symptomatic patients together. If separate isolation rooms are not possible, mitigate risk of transmission through other means such as:
    • Designate areas of the facility for cohorting well and unwell clients. Separate those experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and under investigation from those exposed to possible COVID-19 but asymptomatic. 
    • Keep beds at least 6 feet apart and use temporary barriers between beds, such as curtains, and request that all clients sleep head-to-toe.
    • Designate a separate bathroom for unwell clients with COVID-19 symptoms.
    • Ensure frequent environmental cleaning.
    • Install temporary physical barriers between beds.
    • Open windows to increase ventilation, weather permitting.
  • Encourage clients with respiratory illness symptoms to wear masks if available while in common areas. Clients should be educated on the proper use of masks and have access to new masks.
  • Clients who test positive for COVID-19 need to be isolated in a private room or can share a room with others who have also tested positive. They may have mild moderate symptoms. Clients should remain in their room and not share a bathroom with others. They should be monitored frequently for worsening of their symptoms.
  • If a client experiences severe respiratory symptoms arrange for medical care immediately.


Plan for Early Detection and Management of an Outbreak 

  • Work with your local public health unit to put a plan in place for detecting and managing a potential COVID-19 outbreak in your facility. 

For more information or advice, contact:


Additional Resources

Guidance for Homeless Shelters and Co-Living Settings

COVID-19 Resources

Last Updated: 26/05/2020