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.

Local governments turn to hotels to help fight the pandemic media 1


20 NYC Hotels to be Converted Into Additional Hospital Space

At least 20 hotels have signed contracts with the city in recent days for them to be used to increase hospital bed capacity, the city said Wednesday.

20 NYC Hotels to be Converted Into Additional Hospital Space

Massive effort to get Los Angeles homeless into hotels | AP News

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 from infection...

Massive effort to get Los Angeles homeless into hotels | AP News

Supes push to procure hotel rooms for the homeless as coronavirus spreads - The San Francisco Examiner

‘Friction’ between board and mayor over strategy to protect those living on the streets

Supes push to procure hotel rooms for the homeless as coronavirus spreads - The San Francisco Examiner

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.

Chicago to rent thousands of hotel rooms for coronavirus isolation - Chicago Tribune

Coronavirus patients, first responders housed in hotels, stadiums

Officials are turning to hotels, sports arenas and public spaces to house first responders, patients and homeless people.

Coronavirus patients, first responders housed in hotels, stadiums


  • 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


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.

Six-month status: We’ve revisited some of these efforts six months after their inception to see what’s working, and what’s not.

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.

Six-month status: As the city’s spike in virus cases has calmed, New York City is now focusing hotel use to house the city’s homeless population. Approximately $ 20 percent of the city’s 700 hotels are housing unsheltered people$ . The city’s contract for the initiative runs through October 2020; $ some residents are calling for the program to end, citing low infection rates. Others, anticipating a historic surge in evictions, are lobbying for it to be expanded$ .

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.

Six-month status: According to $ Project Roomkey Tracker$ , a Twitter account that tracks LA County’s use of hotel rooms for unsheltered people, the county has about 4,000 of the proposed 15,000 rooms operational. Of these, about 3,500 are currently occupied.

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.

Six-month status: While still in operation, San Francisco is pausing any additional city-managed hotel room acquisitions to house the homeless population during the pandemic. The program has experienced friction from both advocates and opponents; $ advocates claim the city hasn’t helped enough people$ , while others cite the high price tag and instances of $ criminal activity in the hotels$  as a reason to end the program. The city reportedly $ spent $22.9 million in securing hotel rooms$ , though the city expects the state and FEMA to cover 75 percent of these costs. An additional $ $100 million from the state was also earmarked for securing more Bay Area housing$ , via vacant hotels and college dormitories.

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.)

Six-month status: Chicago continues to offer hotel rooms to first responders and critical health care workers who may be exposed to the virus. The city works with hospitals and emergency services/public safety human resources departments to organize the rooms for those who need them.

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.

Six-month status: King County has $ spent $11,815,071 on costs associated with moving homeless individuals into area hotels$  — this cost includes renting the rooms, buying one hotel, and isolation. It doesn’t include food and personnel costs. The city is considering a 1/10 cent sales tax increase to continue funding the program, however $ some residents are requesting that those in the hotel be moved elsewhere$ , citing an increase in police calls around the area.

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.


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.

Additional Story Information



New York, NY

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Los Angeles County, CA

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San Francisco, CA

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Chicago, IL

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Seattle, WA

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King County, WA

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