Ohio Congress members propose quarantining coronavirus patients in hotels

By Sabrina Eaton - cleveland.com (TNS)

WASHINGTON, D. C. - Hotels are hurting for business because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. At the same time, many people who have tested positive for the potentially fatal virus have trouble isolating themselves at home, particularly if they live in close quarters with a multi-generational family group.

A trio of Northeast Ohio Congress members are proposing legislation that would address both these issues by establishing a federal program that would give states money to lease hotel properties in order to temporarily house individuals with coronavirus who can’t quarantine in their own homes but wish to voluntarily isolate themselves.

Republicans Anthony Gonzalez of Rocky River and Dave Joyce of Bainbridge Township and Democrat Tim Ryan of the Niles area on Thursday teamed up with a pair of Democratic legislators from other states to introduce the “Isolate COVID-19 Act.”

Their bill would authorize $1 billion for the suggested program, which is modeled on similar efforts in other countries. Their legislation would make sure that states have in place proper workplace safety standards and hotel cleaning protocols and would require having at least one health care professional on site or on call at all times to monitor the health of individuals being housed at the hotels.

“Opening up hotels for voluntary isolation will help protect our families who need it the most, especially low-income Americans, wage workers, and minorities who are unable to effectively self-isolate in their homes,” said a statement from Gonzalez, the bill’s chief sponsor. “Until we can widely administer a vaccine for COVID-19, we need every tool at our disposal to help suppress the spread of the virus, including improving our ability to voluntarily isolate infected individuals.”

A statement from Ryan said that with nearly 80% of states seeing a rise in coronavirus cases, it’s important to find a way to decrease transmission between family members.

“To beat this crisis, economic measures and health measures have to work hand-in-hand,” Ryan’s statement said. “If we don’t get transmission of the virus under control, we will not only continue to lose precious lives, but we’ll continue to prolong the economic downturn that has already hurt so many working class families.”

A statement from Joyce noted that to date, Ohio has had more than 69,311 reported cases of coronavirus while more than 100,000 workers have lost hotel-related jobs. He said the bill would help slow the spread of COVID-19 while providing “a lifeline for some of Ohio’s hardest hit businesses.”

“By isolating individuals who have been infected away from their homes, we can dramatically reduce COVID-19 transmission in our communities and create much-needed revenue for struggling hotels and those they employ,” Joyce said.

The bill is endorsed by organizations including the Ohio Hotel & Lodging Association, Asian American Hotel Owners Association, and American Hotel and Lodging Association and several Northeast Ohio health care providers issued statements to endorse the bill.

“At Summa Health, we have served more than 500 patients year-to-date with positive cases of COVID-19,” said the organization’s president and CEO, Dr. Cliff Deveny. “Hotel access for members of the community will aid in curbing COVID-19 cases and support positive outcomes for prevention and treatment.”

University Hospitals Vice President of Government and Community Relations Heidi Garland called health care disparities caused by poverty and structural racism “a public health crisis.”

“University Hospitals commends the bill sponsors and joins in support of the Isolate COVID-19 Act that provides compassionate support and will help reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus and improve health equity,” Garland said.

Ohio Hotel and Lodging Association Executive Director Joe Savarise said owners of more than 600 of the state’s 1,500 hotels have agreed to consider temporarily using their properties as health care facilities if it’s needed during the pandemic. He said participating hotels would exclusively house coronavirus patients, and they’d undergo a rigorous cleaning and disinfecting process before they transition to accommodating regular customers.

He said around 30,000 of the state’s 43,000 hotel and lodging industry employees were laid off at the height of the pandemic, and an estimated 86,000 hotel-supported jobs, like outside landscaping companies that maintain hotel grounds, were also lost. He said just 10% to 15% of the hotel workers who lost their jobs have returned to work because reopened hotels have far less business than they used to.

While hotels that convert to housing COVID patients would not employ as many workers as they previously did, Savarise said the temporary use would provide a lifeline that could keep properties from closing permanently if the pandemic drags on.

“We hope not have to use properties this way, but it makes sense to be prepared,” said Savarise. “I hope we have all learned that lesson.”


By Sabrina Eaton

cleveland.com (TNS)

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