The City of Lawrence has begun providing hotel rooms to safely quarantine people who have been exposed to the coronavirus but whose home living situation provides no way to safely distance themselves from others.
The rooms are particularly intended for people in dense housing situations, like families sharing a small apartment or tenants in "single room occupancy" rooming houses that have shared kitchens or bathrooms, according to Vilma Martinez-Dominguez, the city's community development director.
Martinez-Dominguez said the hotel housing — in the Doubletree Hotel in Andover — will "provide an option for people to physically distance themselves" if they have been exposed but have not tested positive for COVID-19. The city is screening people to make sure they qualify, and at the end of the two-week quarantine, they can return to their homes.
The hotel spaces are not specifically intended for the city's homeless population, Martinez-Dominguez said, because those people frequently have other care needs like drug and alcohol counseling or mental health treatment that the hotel is not staffed to provide.
The city's public announcement of the contract explains that some residents are unable to quarantine "because they are doubled and tripled up in units. There are also people who need to be discharged from the local hospital that have nowhere to go."
Under the contract, the Doubletree is setting aside 80 rooms for $70 per night, with breakfast and housekeeping services included. The contract was issued on an emergency basis to the Doubletree because three other hotels in the area were unavailable or could not provide meals and other services.
Chelsea City Manager Tom Ambrosino told WGBH News' Morning Edition Tuesday that his city is also looking to use hotels for safe quarantine. In Chelsea and also Revere, Ambrosino said, “it's people [who] cannot return to crowded apartment units and properly isolate. So they become temporarily homeless in that circumstance and we need places to isolate them, hence the reason for the hotel. Sending them back to a crowded unit and expecting them to isolate is impractical, and it's just going to lead to more spread of the virus.”
In Boston, the city has reserved some hotel rooms for safe-quarantine purposes, but those rooms are serving primarily first responders who may have been exposed to the virus and are unable to safely quarantine at home.
"It is appropriate in areas with a great deal of congregate, dense housing, where people share bathrooms and common kitchen space to be thinking of space for quarantine during testing or isolation for persons determined positive," said Joe Finn, president and executive director of the Massachusetts Housing & Shelter Alliance.
But Finn also said that it is critical cities provide that kind of safe-quarantine option as well for people living in homeless shelters, where they have very little ability to protect and isolate themselves.