News of overcrowded hospitals is mounting, as beds fill with patients who need ongoing care for weeks. Meanwhile, depleted supplies of personal protective equipment are putting health care workers at high risk of contracting the disease, prompting many to look for somewhere to rest that won’t contaminante their families. Likewise, homeless encampments and shelters are increasingly at risk, as sanitation or space to isolate are limited.
In short, cities need beds. Hotels have them.
Enterprising cities around the world, from Toronto to London to Tokyo, are employing hotels to help during this crisis. Everyone is heads-down in problem solving mode, but there’s a lot of valuable work being done that other leaders can apply within their own districts.
In this story, we’ll share some of the innovative efforts across the United States: how cities are taking the lead and leveraging hotels to solve for their specific local challenges — whether it’s reducing spread within homeless populations, or relieving an overflowing hospital system.
New York looks to hotels to expand hospital capacity
As the epicenter of the outbreak, New York City has been quite vocal about its need for more resources to fight the virus. In an interview with CNN, Mayor Bill de Blasio noted that the city needs to add 60,000 beds — on top of its existing 20,000 hospital beds — to cover the expected spike in cases. These hotels won’t be turning into ICU wards, at least as of now. (Hospitals are specifically designed for medical procedures; hotels are not.) Incoming “guests” will primarily be patients who’ve tested positive but don’t need intensive medical care. At least 700 of these hotel beds are being dedicated to homeless New Yorkers who have the virus or require quarantine. Other New York hotels, like the Four Seasons, have donated rooms for free to medical workers, so they can isolate between shifts without risk of exposure to their families.
California cities to house homeless populations in hotels
Los Angeles County, home to the highest concentration of homelessness in the state, is taking an aggressive approach to the problem. While Governor Gavin Newsom has promised to secure 15,000 rooms for California homeless across the state, LA is upping the ante, with a plan to rent 15,000 rooms within the county. Rooms would go to individuals who are over 65 years old or who have underlying health issues that increase their virus risk. The project is being funded by the state’s homeless initiative as well as LA’s allocation of California’s COVID-19 emergency funds. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors will soon vote on a measure to procure over 8,000 hotel rooms within the month. The SF Examiner reports that “Of the hotel rooms acquired under the legislation, 750 would be for workers on the frontline like nurses, 500 for medical quarantine, and 7,000 for people experiencing homelessness in a shelter or out on the streets.” Board members are currently in discussions with the mayor over who will qualify for a room: individuals who have been exposed to the disease or are high-risk, or a broader population of homeless people including those who are healthy.
Chicago keeps local hotel workers employed
Chicago is leaning on hotels for a range of solutions: additional hospital beds, isolation space for medical workers, and a little financial support for the hospitality industry. While some cities haven’t yet clarified how rented hotels will be operated, Chicago has announced the city isn’t taking over hotel operations — they’re leaving that to the hotel. While patients will be monitored by the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) and city staff, hotel staff will continue to work, providing employment for workers in the hard-hit hospitality industry. Hotel employees will receive training and won’t be directly in contact with patients. The program will cost the city up to $1 million per month per hotel. (The city is paying $175 per night per room, including 3 meals a day to those staying.)
Seattle relocates homeless shelter populations to prevent spread
Smaller communities prepare for the worst
While big cities are in the midst of their outbreaks, smaller communities are gearing up for what may come.
Hospitality associations and products are also stepping up to provide assistance. San Diego-based Cloudbeds, a hotel management software, has launched HospitalityHelps. Local governments can sign up under the site’s “I Need Beds” section; they’re then matched with hotels who have registered available beds. So far more than 1 million beds have been offered. Hospitality for Hope, an American Hotel & Lodging Association initiative, launched in late March to allow governments and agencies to use hotel rooms for emergency services. So far 15,000 hotels have signed up. While the program works centrally through HHS to connect to local agencies, it also has resources, like a sample emergency temporary occupancy agreement, that municipalities can leverage.
With the situation evolving so rapidly, cities shouldn’t wait for state or federal officials to provide hotel assistance. By looking at these examples of city-hotel partnerships, local officials can determine what their specific needs are — more hospital beds, or safe space for at-risk populations.
Cities can then work directly with local hotels, hotel ownership groups, or associations to secure the rooms. Doing so could save lives.