New York City’s hotels have seen more than an 80 percent drop in occupancy since the coronavirus crisis, but that unfortunate fact has at least opened one positive door. As Mayor de Blasio announced in his press conference yesterday, 20 hotels have signed contracts to be converted to temporary hospitals, which will add roughly 10,000 additional beds. As NY1 reported, on Wednesday, Dr. Mitchell Katz, CEO of NYC Health + Hospitals, said, “We are in disaster mode so that contracts can be quickly signed. When it’s operational, patients who don’t need to be incubated, who are recovering but not well enough to leave the hospital, will be sent to hotels.”
When it comes to the city’s stock of new, temporary hospitals, most are being used as overflow facilities, not for COVID-19 patients. The reasoning is that you don’t want non-COVID patients entering the hospitals unnecessarily and possibly exposing themselves. But with the hotels, it’s the first time we’re hearing a conversation about facilities for those recovering from COVID. As Dr. Katz explained yesterday during the Mayor’s press briefing, he hopes to convert existing hospitals into intensive care units (ICU beds, in this context, have the much-needed ventilators) “because an intensive care patient relies tremendously on the ability of the laboratory, on the pharmacy, on equipment, radiology.” This cannot be done in a hotel, but rather hotels can be used “for medicine patients who do need support but don’t need the same level with ICU need.”
Heather Roiter, the head of hazard mitigation in the city’s Office of Emergency Management, told Bloomberg on March 30th that hotels also offer a unique opportunity for isolation. “For us what’s really important is that the hotel is willing to take people who are exposed to Covid-19 and may be symptomatic. And because of the nature of being in isolation, we’ll have to isolate them in a room, and we must have a way to provide feeding and laundry services.” She had also talked about using hotel rooms for asymptomatic healthcare workers who want to avoid exposing their household members.
Katz says that the hotels should be up and running by the end of the month, an important deadline as the Mayor has estimated that the city needs 65,000 additional hospital beds by the end of April. Prior to the current crisis, the city had 20,000 hospital beds. They have increased that number by mandating that all hospitals up their capacity by 50 percent, which is adding an additional 10,000 beds. In total, off-site temporary hospitals will bring 15,000 more beds. This includes 1,000 at the Javits Center and 750 aboard the USNS Comfort, which arrived Monday. The National Tennis Center in Corona, Queens is being converted to a temporary hospital with 350 beds, as is the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal in Red Hook, where the hope is to have 750 more beds.
For the 10,000 hotel beds, the Mayor has been speaking with the Army Corps of Engineers about the logistics behind converting these locations. He told NY1, “You create a nurse’s station around where the elevators are. I mean they have really simple things they do to flip a switch basically and turn a hotel into a hospital. And we’re going to be doing that to the tune of thousands and thousands of rooms.” Staffing, of course, is the major issue. However, in his press conference earlier today, Governor Cuomo said that 85,000 healthcare professionals, including 21,000 from out of state, had volunteered to help with the efforts in NYC.
Vijay Dandapani, Hotel Association of NYC President and CEO, told the Commercial Observer that “not a single [hotel] owner is hoping to make money on this.” He said that most hotels “are doing it at cost and that doesn’t include food costs and pay for all the workers.”
Several hotels in New York City have previously opened their rooms at no cost to healthcare workers. The first to come forward was the Four Seasons on 57th Street, where rooms typically go for between $500 and $6,500 a night. The hotel’s owner, Ty Warner, the founder and chairman of Ty Warner Hotels and Resorts, had said in a statement, “Many of those working in New York City have to travel long distances to and from their homes after putting in 18-hour days. They need a place close to work where they can rest and regenerate.” In addition, 35 hotels as part of the Hotel Association of NYC are offering special rates for emergency responders.
As of 9:30am this morning, 48,462 people in New York City had tested positive for the virus; 1,397 had died. On the state-wide level, there were 92,381 positive cases and 2,373 deaths.