isolation

City Shuttles Homeless and Other Virus Patients to Hotels

NYC Health + Hospitals President Mitchell Katz floated the possibility earlier this week of sending some patients to "residential hotels."
NYC Health + Hospitals President Mitchell Katz floated the possibility earlier this week of sending some patients to “residential hotels.” Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

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The city is sending homeless shelter residents and public hospital patients with coronavirus to hotels — but won’t say where.

And officials aren’t providing hotel staff or the city employees monitoring the infected guests with masks or any other form of protective equipment — instead instructing them to maintain social distance.

“Going into a hotel room with an infected patient is the same as going into a room of a hospital with an infected patient,” said City Councilmember Stephen Levin (D-Brooklyn), who called for protection for the workers.

The news came as officials confirmed the first death of a homeless New Yorker who succumbed to COVID-19.

The city’s Department of Homeless Services and the Health + Hospitals Corporation said the shelter residents and patients sent to the hotels are all experiencing low-level symptoms and do not require intensive medical care.

As of Wednesday, DHS had placed 65 individuals from shelters into hotel rooms.

Among them: residents who are infected, people who came in close contact with those who tested positive and shelter clients with potential coronavirus symptoms who haven’t been tested, officials said.

Overall, the city has lined up 500 rooms in four hotels, though only two facilities were being used as of Wednesday afternoon, officials said.

Isaac McGinn, a DHS spokesperson, declined to reveal the locations of the hotels, citing shelter residents’ privacy.

HHC wouldn’t say how many patients it had sent to the hotels so far. At least one HHC patient with COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, had no known address and was routed to a hotel, via DHS.

Protecting ‘Most Vulnerable’

The number of shelter residents infected with the virus jumped from 17 to 39 between Sunday night and Tuesday night, with the illness spreading from 12 to 27 separate shelters across the city during that time, DHS officials said. Twelve people have been hospitalized — including the unidentified person who died Tuesday.

Meanwhile, a surge of COVID-19 patients has swamped medical workers at the city’s 11 public hospitals. As of Tuesday night, more than 2,800 coronavirus patients were in all New York City hospitals, both public and volunteer, according to the Department of Health & Mental Hygiene.

HHC President Mitchell Katz noted Tuesday that to make space for more ICU beds, the hospitals are “looking to take patients who are not as sick and place them in other environments such as skilled nursing facilities or residential hotels.”

It’s not clear, though, how patients and shelter residents placed in hotels are being monitored or how the workers there are being protected from becoming contaminated themselves.

Jennifer Fermino, a spokesperson for City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, said DHS is not providing either the hotel workers or the DHS workers assigned to monitor the sites with masks or any other form of personal protective equipment (PPE). Instead, DHS has given “guidance” on social distancing to staff running the hotels.

Councilmember Stephen Levin (D-Brooklyn)
Councilmember Stephen Levin (D-Brooklyn) Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Fermino said the Council “will monitor the situation, working with advocates to make sure the administration has adequate social distancing measures in hotels and that those who test positive are isolated and receive proper medical attention.”

“With the first tragic death of a New Yorker experiencing homelessness due to the coronavirus and a fear of more deaths on the rise, it is now imperative we work together in protecting our city’s most vulnerable,” she said.

Levin, who last week joined Johnson in pressing Mayor Bill de Blasio to come up with isolation space for infected shelter residents, told THE CITY workers at the hotels need protection as soon as possible.

“We don’t want to put anybody at risk,” he said.

Isolation Space Elusive

Fermino noted DHS officials told the Council they’re following guidance of the city health commissioner on whether it’s okay to house more than one resident in a single hotel room. She said DHS deals with this “case by case,” based on “what is medically appropriate each time.”

McGinn said he would look into how social distancing is being enforced in the isolation units, including whether there are any protocols about entering small elevators and congregating in common spaces.

The city’s Department of Social Services, he said, “continues to convey to our clients what signs/symptoms they should be on the lookout for, encouraging them to speak up if and when they feel at all sick or experience any of the identified symptoms.”

“For any client who expresses they are experiencing symptoms, DSS has developed protocols for working closely with each service provider to connect those individuals to isolation and/or care as needed,” he added.

As THE CITY reported Sunday, DHS has struggled to deal with the COVID-19 crisis, rushing to create isolation space in a shelter system housing some 57,000 people.

Meanwhile, homeless people who live on the streets and subways have been overwhelming city-supported drop-in centers while public restrooms, restaurants and other facilities remain shuttered.

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