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Outbreak Voices: How Coronavirus Has Changed A Chicago Nurse's Work With Homeless


Today, we're hearing about how the coronavirus outbreak is affecting people's lives and the work they do.

STEPHAN KORUBA: When the average person goes home and self-quarantines, they have four walls, a bathroom and family that can help support them through this. Our clients do not. They are very often housed in a tent or just in a doorway.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Stephan Koruba, the senior nurse practitioner at The Night Ministry in Chicago. He works with the organization's street medicine vans serving the homeless. These days, staff and volunteers are giving out a lot of hand sanitizer. They're explaining how the virus has spread and what symptoms it causes. They're asking clients to call them if they become ill or if they see someone else who's sick. The outbreak has also changed the way they're treating clients.

KORUBA: Normally, we invite them into our van to sit down, get out of the elements. We examine them and work with them in that space. Until further notice, we will be working with them out on the street because we are trying to maintain the inside of our vehicles as a safe space for our volunteers and providers. If we lose too many of our employees, we're not going to be able to meet the needs of our clients. Right now, my biggest concern is folks overreacting and trying - and erring on the side of caution. Everybody is going to react to the level that they need to, and I understand that as far as for them to feel personally safe and protected. But the truth of the matter is if we lose too many people out there, whether it's coming into work or making the donations that we make, we - quickly erodes our ability to meet the needs of our clients.

For instance, a lot of groups that get together will make us sandwiches on a regular basis. Well, we've seen that our donations of food has started to slow up because people are worried about meeting - right? - in a group. Also, some of our volunteers are worried about being out and engaging in outreach at a time like this. Understandably so. And I think, you know, it's just really a - it's just really the same positive feedback loop you'd see at a big medical institution or any other institution where the illness not only affects the people you're trying to treat, which causes a need for more employees and more health care providers, but then the health care providers have to be home taking care of their family members and/or themselves if they get sick. Then you have less people, and there's a bigger drain. And it seems to just snowball at that point. So that's my biggest worry - is that snowball effect.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Stephan Koruba with The Night Ministry in Chicago.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.