Is COVID-19 spreading faster in the homeless population?

Bottom Line:

From preliminary evidence in Boston, it seems like the homeless population is much more susceptible to rapid spread of the virus. Over a 15-day period, the frequency of cases per 1000 persons was 46.3 in the homeless population, versus 1.9 among the general population.


Baggett, T.P. et al. Epidemiology of COVID-19 among people experiencing homelessness: early evidence from Boston. Annals of Family Medicine, COVID-19 Collection (2020).

Date Published:

10 April 2020


Individuals experiencing homelessness are at increased risk for getting COVID-19 due to staying in cramped spaces such as shelters, and a higher burden of medical, mental health, and addictive disorders. Additionally, it is much more difficult for many of these individuals to follow public health recommendations of hand-washing and social distancing. This study wanted to estimate how the spread of COVID-19 differs among homeless populations. They collected data from the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program, to identify the number of people experiencing homelessness who tested positive for COVID-19 in a 15-day period from March 20, 2020 to April 3, 2020. They compared this with daily counts issued by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health of COVID-19 positive cases in the adult population in the state. Over the 15-day period, 182 people experiencing homelessness tested positive, with a frequency of 46.3 cases per 1000 people. In contrast, 1.9 cases per 1000 among the general population were diagnosed in the same time frame. This highlights a concerning trend of rapid spread among homeless populations which will require public health attention in all major municipalities.

Summary by: Megan Wheatley