Other COVID-19 Sanctuary Resources:
How Should Sanctuaries Respond To COVID-19? (As of March 11, 2020)
As COVID-19 continues to spread throughout much of the world, the global sanctuary community is faced with the task of preparing for the unknown. However, even as local and federal governments offer new recommendations or impose safety measures to reduce spread, there are still a lot of questions out there. We certainly don’t have all the answers, but we’d like to address some of the most common questions we’ve been hearing.
“Should I be worried about non-human sanctuary residents contracting or spreading COVID-19?“
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), “In the United States, there is no evidence to suggest that any animals, including pets, livestock, or wildlife, might be a source of COVID-19 infection at this time. However, because all animals can carry germs that can make people sick, it’s always a good idea to practice healthy habits around pets and other animals.”
However, both the CDC and the American Veterinary Medical Association recommend that individuals with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 avoid contact with companion animals. The AVMA, “out of an abundance of caution” recommends those with COVID-19 who must interact with a non-human animal “wear a facemask; don’t share food, kiss, or hug them; and wash your hands before and after any contact…. You should not share dishes, drinking glasses, cups, eating utensils, towels, or bedding with other people or pets in your home. While we are recommending these as good practices, it is important to remember there is currently no evidence that pets can spread COVID-19 to other animals, including people.”
If you have staff members who are ill, whether or not they have a confirmed case of COVID-19, it’s important to ask them to stay home to protect other staff and residents. If you are the sole caregiver and become ill, we recommend you wear a face mask and exam gloves when interacting with the animals in your care and that you limit contact as much as possible. It’s important to work on a contingency plan so that your residents will continue to receive care even if you are not able to provide it during a time of illness- this is when the volunteers you have been asking to stay home can step in to carry out essential tasks.
“Should we have different protocols in place when taking in a new resident from an area with a large number of confirmed COVID-19 cases? Can they act as a fomite?”
We always recommend a quarantine period for new residents. If you do not already have a quarantine policy in place, now is the time. While COVID-19 can be spread via contaminated surfaces, the AVMA states, “Smooth (non-porous) surfaces (e.g., countertops, door knobs) transmit viruses better than porous materials (e.g., paper money, pet fur), because porous, and especially fibrous, materials absorb and trap the pathogen (virus), making it harder to contract through simple touch. Because your pet’s hair is porous and also fibrous, it is very unlikely that you would contract COVID-19 by petting or playing with your pet.”
This information coupled with the fact that staff would be wearing gloves when interacting with the new resident during their quarantine period, makes the risks of virus spread unlikely. Just be sure your staff continue to be careful when working with new residents- wearing gloves but then touching your face with those gloves negates the point of the gloves (and this is true at all times, not just related to the current pandemic).
“Should I be stocking up on food and medical supplies?“
Because there are so many unknowns regarding how supply chains and businesses may be affected, we suggest having conversations with suppliers when possible. Some regions may see different impacts on certain supplies.
- Food – It’s a good idea to start having a conversation with your food supplier, if you haven’t already. They may be able to share information about how the current local and federal guidelines have or will affect their ability to remain open or to keep certain items in stock. Because no one knows exactly what’s going to happen, we’d suggest having at least a few week’s worth of food in storage at the sanctuary if possible. If storage is an issue, if you have a good relationship with your local feed store, you may be able to make an arrangement where they set aside a certain amount of inventory for you.
- Medications – Have a conversation with your veterinarian about having larger prescriptions, if possible (such as a 90-day supply vs. a 30-day supply). Talk to them and your pharmacy about how medications may be impacted and what you should do to prepare.
- Medical Supplies – The “panic buying” of gloves and face masks will only contribute to the ongoing problem of shortages for those who need them now. Be smart and compassionate about the supplies you actually need to have on hand and in what quantities.
- Connect with your local community and the wider sanctuary community – It’s always helpful to have connections to your communities, but especially during times of crisis. By talking with others, both regionally and online, you may get a better sense of what you should be doing based on the specifics of your location. You may also build connections that could be beneficial if you find yourself in a bind. Similarly, if you hear that others in the community are struggling, perhaps you’ll be able to lend a helping hand.
“What other things should I be doing?“
- Start, or continue to limit non-essential staff and volunteers – Even if you are lucky enough to be in an area where there are no confirmed cases, we recommend you still act as though the virus is in your community and to act accordingly. We don’t mean to be alarmist, but given the current situation, we suggest everyone practice common-sense preventative measures before the issue is confirmed in your community.
- Talk to your staff – These are scary times. Sometimes, especially if we don’t have all the answers, we may avoid having an open dialogue, worrying it may make matters worse. But it’s likely that people are either silently worrying or talking among themselves (or with friends and family outside the organization) about their concerns. People are not only worried about the health and safety of themselves and their loved ones, they are also worried about how the residents they love may be impacted by both the current crisis and the economic fallout. Keep them in the loop in decisions, and when appropriate, let them be part of the discussion. Give them a safe space to ask questions. Find a way to be honest and realistic without falling into despair. Though many people are focused on the immediate concerns, most can’t help but wonder how non-profit organizations will be impacted in the long term by the economic impacts. Letting people know that you are aware of the situation and are working on ways to address these challenges may be helpful. People want to know if they need to be worried about their jobs. If you can give them peace of mind, you should.
- Work on a Shelter In Place plan if you don’t have one – In the event that your region issues a Shelter In Place order, you’ll want to be prepared and make sure staff know ahead of time what this will look like. You may also want to reach out to your local government officials to see if they can give you any insight as to whether or not your organization will be considered an essential business.
We will continue to provide additional resources about the COVID-19 outbreak as new information arises. Please continue to reach out to us with additional questions and requests and we will do our best to respond. We dearly hope that your organization and residents are safe at this time!