If this sounds very luxurious, consider that this is the standard of care that we started off with during the pandemic. In mid-February, American passengers from the Diamond Princess cruise ship who were either positive for COVID or exposed headed to a facility in Nebraska. There they found private 300-square-foot rooms, with full-size beds, gym equipment, and surfaces selected for how easy they are to wipe down. Each day, a care team delivered meals and sudoku puzzles or magazines upon request. Even as the pandemic has progressed and outstripped the capacity of specialized facilities like this, we’ve tried to create quarantine hotels in the States. In April, CNBC reported that “government officials across the country are converting thousands of empty hotel rooms into housing for coronavirus patients and first responders.” Good! But ultimately paltry: In Chicago, a city of 2.7 million that saw almost a thousand new cases every day that month, that effort involved the city leasing … a confirmed total of two hotels.
We have the capacity to do more. Since the pandemic started, half of all hotel workers have been laid off, and hotel capacity for the year is on track to be about 40 percent, according to American Hotel & Lodging Association CEO Chip Rogers. In March, AHLA started a “Hospitality for Hope Initiative” to connect local and federal governments to hoteliers to rent out rooms for first responders, coronavirus patients, and people in need of shelter. Seventeen thousand hotels signed up to participate. Some of these were offering just a few rooms, and Rogers is careful to note that a government needs to lease a whole hotel if it is going to put potentially sick people there, lest it be unappealing (and unsafe) for others to stay there. But it’s hard to see how government buyouts of spaces wouldn’t incentivize businesses in a struggling industry to offer their space.