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Will Your Favorite Hotel Become a Hospital in the Pandemic?

The hospitality industry around the world is pitching in to alleviate the crisis.

For the hospitality industry, the financial blow of COVID-19 has been immediate—and painful. While tourism and travel grind to a halt, many hotels are shuttering locations and laying off thousands of employees; those still open are nearly vacant. Yet, in the midst of a public health crisis, hotels could become an important part of the relief.

As the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic hit much of the world over the last few weeks, hotels have begun to turn vacancies into an opportunity.

Extreme cases—wars, usually—can transform hotels into hospitals, an idea many countries are already implementing or considering. Other hotels—rather than sit idly by as occupancies dwindle—are volunteering their rooms and services to medical workers and patients, or working with local governments and organizations to become centers for relief efforts. Here’s how hotels are helping curb the crisis.

Hotels as Hospitals

In the United States, concern over a surge in COVID-19 cases and hospital capacity has government officials looking for alternatives: across the country, cities are considering plans to convert hotels into hospitals.

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This effort, which would ease the burden for overcrowded ICU units and hospitals, has already been implemented in countries like Spain, where the death toll rose to 1,000 last week. According to Al-Jazeera, hotels like Ayre Gran Hotel Colon in Madrid have opened to COVID-19 patients; Spanish authorities report there are 60,000 more hotel rooms across Spain ready to go.

Hotels are uniquely set up for quarantine since many individuals at once can be easily sectioned off into private, sanitary rooms with their own bathroom.

The United States Army Corps of Engineers, which has started scouting locations in New York City, would likely implement something similar to Spain, drawing up plans to quickly turn hotels, dorms, and convention centers into makeshift hospitals with quarantined areas and medical equipment—should they have to. The harsh reality underlying these plans is that cities, especially hard-hit ones like NYC, San Francisco, Miami, Los Angeles, and New Orleans, fear they won’t have enough hospital beds and medical care to host infected patients.

No locations in the United States have had to take such extreme measures just yet. But federal and local governments want to have a plan—a quick one—should hospitals reach dire straits. In the meantime, there are other practical ways to utilize hotels during the crisis–critical moves that don’t involve hauling in medical equipment and calling on the military–that some hotels are already implementing.

Hotels for Medical Workers

STAY Camden in London is taking action ahead of government intervention. The brand is now offering up its apartment-like lodgings to any medical workers looking for a place to quarantine. With an offer to host medical professionals for up to a month (for now), the apartments, with full kitchens and laundry, come with specialty care packages as well. Dotan Weiner, COO of LABS Collective, the UK-based hotel group, calls the opportunity to accommodate those working to fight COVID-19 “a privilege.”

“With the current uncertainty surrounding everyday lives,” Weiner says, “the need for a community hub of facilities and support has become more important than ever.”

In Israel, as the number of cases soars past 1,600, a Tel Aviv hotel is taking a similar approach. Brown Hotel is donating all 30 of its rooms to doctors and medical workers who have been ordered to the 14-day quarantine.

New Orleans, a city that relies heavily on tourism (and has been hit hard by the virus), hotels offer incentives for those affected. The Higgins Hotel at the National WWII Museum offers a special weekly rate for partners and families of medical workers who are looking for a safe place to quarantine. Nearby, The Quisby, a hip, revamped hostel on St. Charles Avenue, offers up discounted rooms to traveling nurses and medical professionals coming to town to aide in efforts. The Quisby and others across the United States look to foundations like Hotels For Hope, an initiative from The American Hotel and Lodging Association that connects healthcare workers and government agencies with hotels across the country.

In the Bay Area, the San Francisco Hotel Council is preparing for a similar plan. The first (and likely next) move, says the Council, will be to offer rooms to medical workers and other individuals who can’t quarantine at home. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, luxury hotels like the famous Palace Hotel and the Intercontinental Mark Hopkins are in the running to become such quarantine centers. Similar plans are underway in cities like New York and New Orleans.

Chicago is the first city to implement this plan, according to the Associated Press, with  Hotel One Sixty-Six Magnificent Mile among the first hotels to offer lodging for patients (with mild symptoms) needing quarantine.

Practical Quarantine Zones

For those that have been exposed, or present no (or mild) symptoms, hotels are a reasonable solution for a few reasons. Hotels allow space for rest and quarantine, and free up hospital beds and services for those in more critical condition. They’re also uniquely set up for quarantine since many individuals at once can be easily sectioned off into private, sanitary rooms with their own bathroom. In all cases, cities say they are taking extreme measures to protect hotel employees staying on from exposure.

It’s unclear yet how much most cities will pay for these hotels in the end—and what support they’ll see from the federal government—but by leasing hotel rooms to those affected by the virus, local governments also get the opportunity to pump money back into the industry. Hospitality losses hurt especially in cities where tourism and hospitality are a big means of revenue.

Serving You, Serving Each Other

The fact is that the tourism, food, and beverage industries drive local economies. These businesses bring in revenue, provide entertainment and appeal for travelers, and employ much of the service economy. As they face financial crisis, this industry is stepping up to take care of those who need them most right now—including, sometimes, each other.

Members of the hospitality industry are known innovators. Now they’re using those creative efforts to help each other, and others in need. Beyond hotels, there are the distilleries that use their raw materials to make hand sanitizer; foundations that pay restaurants to feed on-duty medical workers, and bars and restaurants that provide free meals for laid-off service industry workers.

So, while you’re stuck at home, like many of us are, check out some resources that give to bars, restaurants, hotels, and their employees, as well as some simple ways to individually support the places you love until it’s safe to do it in person again.

landrew March 30, 2020

As great an idea as this is, there's a better one.  There are thousands of drug and alcohol rehab facilities across the US that are supposedly accredited by JCAHO or equivalent, and these are no place for a recovering addict with a weakened immune system to be right now.