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Local governments turn to hotels to help fight the pandemic

Cities are renting hotel rooms to use for additional hospital beds, space for medical professionals, and shelter for the homeless.

Emergency PreparednessHomelessnessHealth & Human ServicesOutbreak
Newsworthy
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LOS ANGELES (AP) — To curb the coronavirus spread, Los Angeles has embarked on a massive effort to bring thousands of homeless people off the streets and into hotels to protect them and others...
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Supes push to procure hotel rooms for the homeless as coronavirus spreads – The San Francisco Examiner
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Chicago to rent thousands of hotel rooms for coronavirus isolation - Chicago Tribune
The city of Chicago plans to rent thousands of hotel rooms to be used for people diagnosed with the new coronavirus or those who believe they’ve been exposed, in an effort to stop the spread of the illness and relieve the burden on hospitals.
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USA TODAY
Highlights
  • New York plans to add at least 10,000 hospital beds by renting 20 city hotels
  • California cities, led by Los Angeles, are using hotels to shelter people experiencing homelessness, to mitigate virus spread
  • Chicago is using hotels to house patients and medical workers, keeping some hotel staff working to try offset hospitality industry job loss
  • Seattle is transferring healthy people from its homeless shelters to to hotels to decrease the risk of spread
  • Resources are available for cities who need hotel rooms to as part of their coronavirus response
Project Summary
As coronavirus spreads across the United States, local officials are facing unprecedented challenges to slow and manage the virus.
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.
At the same time, the pandemic has hit the hospitality industry especially hard. Hotels have seen a $7.5 billion decline in revenue, and more than 70% of U.S. rooms are empty. Many hotels have had to furlough or lay off staff due to the lack of business.
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.
To help reach this number, NYC city officials have rented at least 20 hotels, which will add more than 10,000 beds to its capacity. The city is planning on paying for the hotels, but expects to be reimbursed by FEMA, according to Heather Roiter, who leads hazard mitigation in New York City’s Office of Emergency Management.
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

With estimates that 60,000 homeless people in California could be infected by the virus, 20 percent of whom may require hospitalization, cities across the state are hurrying to mitigate risks.
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.
Meanwhile, Sacramento, recently announced a plan that includes securing 850 beds at motels. The initiative is being funded through a mix of state and federal funds.

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.
Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot announced that the city will rent at least 1,000 rooms from local hotels to house individuals who are mildly sick with COVID-19 or who have been exposed to coronavirus and cannot return home while awaiting test results. The plan included a deal to end an 18-month labor strike between UNITE HERE Local 1 and Fillmore Hospitality.
The move is intended to free up beds and ease the burden in hospitals. Chicago partnered with The Hotel Essex to give first responders a place to go after their shifts if they don’t want to risk exposing those at home. The city has also considered using the hotels to house homeless people.
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

The site of the country’s early cases, Seattle & King County are moving 400 people out of area homeless shelters and into three local hotels. The proactive move is intended to thin the shelter population and decrease the risk of spread there. People moving into hotels are healthy and have not tested positive for the virus.
Seattle officials also rented out a full hotel downtown for first responders or other city workers who have been exposed and need to isolate outside their home. The city will spend at least $2.8 million on the 90-day lease. Per the contract, the hotel is offering three meals per day for $45 per room per day.

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.
Mayor Karen Sheeck of Cortez, Colorado, has been in talks with local hotels about housing first responders. “The better prepared we are, hopefully the less impact it will have,” she told USA Today. Officials in Travis County, Texas, and Ocean City, Maryland, are in similar discussions, whether it’s to support area homeless populations or provide additional hospital beds.

Other Resources

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.

Takeaways

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.

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