Long waits for New York City’s COVID-19 isolation hotel rooms, as Omicron reports spike


Those who have tried using the service in recent weeks say there haven’t been enough hotel rooms to meet demand. They report delays in getting a room, sometimes of three days or more, even as the CDC recently reduced its recommended isolation time to five days.

Michael Appleton / Mayor’s Office of Photography

A resident receives a COVID-19 test at a site in the city of Manhattan in 2020.

When Sam Bellamy tested positive for COVID on December 16, he immediately called the city hotline for a hotel room. He lives in Brooklyn with two roommates, one of whom couldn’t get the recall due to health issues, so he knew it would be difficult to isolate himself at home.

Read our coverage of the coronavirus crisis in New York City.

Bellamy waited an hour and a half to register, only to realize that he would need more time to collect his work effects before being picked up by the free transport service the city offers as part of its COVID-19 isolation hotel program. He therefore asked to be picked up the next day. But when he called back that Friday night, he was told he hadn’t even been put into the system. He therefore had to re-register and start the wait again.

He started doing sponge baths in his shared bathroom instead of showering without a mask, expecting to be in a hotel room soon enough. A friend of hers who used the program in November told her that she was recovered in just a few hours. He called the hotline daily, waiting up to two hours each time.

But it wasn’t until the night of December 19 – three days after his diagnosis and his first attempt at seclusion – that Sam was granted a room at the LaGuardia Plaza Hotel in Queens.

“The first thing I did when I got here was take a shower! ” he said.

As the omicron variant overwhelms New York City, residents with their roommates and families to isolate themselves call the city’s free hotel room program, called Take Care, for a safe place to recuperate. Launched at the start of the pandemic, the service offers participants three meals a day, round-trip transportation, drug delivery and more, all for free.

But as a local The politicians and media have continued to tout the program’s benefits, the increase in COVID-19 cases appears to be straining its effectiveness. Those who have tried using the service in recent weeks (including this reporter) say there haven’t been enough hotel rooms to meet demand. Residents are report long wait times to get an isolation room, three days or more, even as the CDC recently reduced its recommendations isolation time up to five days.

The delays are particularly worrying for people already without housing. COVID cases are spreading rapidly through the city’s shelter system again, where residents are often housed in dormitory-style collective rooms with multiple people.

An employee of a nonprofit that employs homeless people told City Limits they called the hotel hotline to try and book a room for an employee who could no longer stay at a shelter for homeless due to exposure to COVID. They waited on hold for four hours last Wednesday, December 22, and six hours the next day, they said – and still couldn’t reach a real person.

NYC Health + Hospitals declined to answer questions about the number of isolation hotel rooms currently under contract for the program, or average wait times for rooms, but acknowledged capacity issues fueled by the increase in omicron cases.

“Our Take Care hotel program has seen an increase in numbers, as would be expected during the holidays and with the colder weather bringing people inside. Like many other industries, staffing issues have impacted our operations, ”a representative at City Limits said in a statement. “We’re working on adding more hotel rooms by the first week of January to accommodate visitors and residents of New York City, especially those with roommates and multigenerational families, who might otherwise not have a safe place. and comfortable to quarantine or isolate. “

Rumors of long wait times for hotel rooms even deter some New Yorkers from calling. Cissy Yu, 26, took advantage of the program in November when she tested positive for COVID. Unfortunately, she contracted the virus again on December 21. She decided that this time she would try to stay home, but was still worried about exposing her roommates.

“I kind of assumed the hotel would be really backed up because so many people have COVID right now,” she said, adding that she had read the days of waiting on a Reddit thread. “The last time I was there a nurse mentioned that when she had a wave of patients she was not very well staffed to handle huge loads. “

The omicron variant caused such a surge. The CDC estimated that more than 90 percent of COVID cases in the tri-state region are caused by the new variant. Prior to this last spike, the hotel room system seemed to be working fine. When Christopher Nickelson, 27, called the hotel hotline in mid-November, he recalled being on hold for about five minutes and was able to schedule a pickup for the same day.

“The program has really been a lifeline,” he said. Nickelson said he was suffering from several symptoms of COVID and was so low on energy that he knew he couldn’t cook for himself every day. The LaGuardia Plaza hotel, where he was placed, provided three meals a day and he was regularly checked by a nurse.

Nickelson said a nurse told him that during his stay the hotel was at about half of its capacity. At that time, the seven-day average of New York City cases was around 1,400. The Queens Hotel near the airport has 358 rooms, according to its website. As of December 27, the city’s seven-day COVID case rate was over 20,000, having doubled in less than a week.

It’s not clear if LaGuardia Plaza is the only hotel the city uses for its isolation program; Health + Hospital officials did not respond to City Limits’ inquiries about the number of sites it is currently contracting with. The Department of Homeless Services (DHS) has also rented rooms in at least four hotels specifically for residents of homeless shelters who have been exposed or tested positive for COVID, officials said last week.

The city appears to be working on expanding the Take Care program to new hotels. James Fitzgerald, 27, was granted a room at the Holiday Inn at LaGuardia Airport on December 16 after testing positive. He said a member of staff told him this hotel was due to open later in the year, but the city rushed the process to open it that week. (The Holiday Inn did not respond to a request for comment, but its website says the hotel has 217 rooms.)

This reporter is one of many New Yorkers who have faced this problem. I received my COVID positive result after standing in line for a rapid test for over three hours on Sunday, December 19. So I called the city’s hotel program hotline. After a two hour wait, I was placed in the queue and told I should hear about a room in 24 hours.

But that time has come and gone, and on subsequent daily calls I was told that they weren’t able to give me an estimate and that they were saved. Nine days later, I’m still home.

Have you had any experience with the city’s COVID-19 hotel isolation program? Tell us about it by sending an email to [email protected]

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