Hours before his first shift cooking for people with mild cases of COVID-19 who are being quarantined in a downtown Chicago hotel, Jose Gonzalez made a plan to protect his family from the coronavirus.
Chicago’s plan to reserve at least 1,000 hotel rooms through partnerships with five hotels is the first such sweeping strategy unveiled in the U.S. aimed at relieving the pressure on hospitals that are the only option for the seriously sick.
But it will assuredly not be the last.
Government officials nationwide are searching for facilities that could act as a relief valve for hospitals amid building concern that demand will exceed available space and equipment for coronavirus patients with severe symptoms.
Gonzalez, 27, said he has been reassured that only city employees will interact with patients. But he’s planning to frequently wash his hands and take other steps to limit his chances of becoming ill or spreading the virus to his 5-year-old daughter and fiancee.
“My biggest concern is just making sure I don’t catch the virus,” he said.
Samir Mayekar, deputy mayor for neighborhood and economic development in Chicago, said the city’s public health team wanted a plan that teamed with hotel owners and their staff, rather than a takeover run entirely by public employees as in cities in Asia and Europe.
“Quarantine and isolation units are going to be used in every city across the country eventually, in their own way, shape and form,” Mayekar said. “Every hour, every day counts.”
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday that he’s also considering hotels and dormitories for treatment sites as work continues to turn the city’s Jacob K. Javits Convention Center into a temporary field hospital. In Michigan, a suburban Detroit university offered up its basketball gym for a makeshift hospital and parking lots for drive-thru testing sites.
The first patients moved into Hotel 166 on Tuesday, but the city has not said how many, nor has it named the other hotels that are joining the effort.
The hotel rooms are intended for people who have tested positive for COVID-19 but have mild symptoms that don’t require a hospital stay. They also could be used by people awaiting test results who are unable to go home due to the risk of spreading the virus to family members, particularly those who are vulnerable to more severe symptoms due to their age or health issues.