TAMPA, Fla. — In the midst of the coronavirus crisis, two hotels opened Thursday in Tampa as sites for isolation and quarantine.
Hillsborough County signed 6-month leases to use the Quality Inn and Conference Center and West Wing Hotel.
One will be used for isolation for those who test positive, and the other for quarantine for those who were exposed to someone who tested positive.
Placements will be screened and managed by the Department of Hotel and be limited to only those who cannot isolate or quarantine at home but can still care for their selves.
"Quarantine and isolation can be very effective, basically you’re drowning the virus, you’re separating the virus from other potential hosts so if you’re separating people that may be sick they can’t spread it to other individuals because they’re out in the community walking about. And most important thing about these sites is it’s for people who can’t stay at home," said Iñaki Rezola, the operations section chief in the Office of Emergency Management for Hillsborough County Fire Rescue.
The sites provide more than 300 rooms, shelter, food, telemedicine options, laundry and sanitation.
Rezola said staff were being trained by the Department of Health on the use of personal protective equipment and procedures were in place to minimize contact between guests and any workers to limit exposure.
When the sites are no longer needed, they will undergo medical grade cleaning and sanitation. Officials said they are looking at other hotels for possible expansion, though, if necessary.
County leaders are also looking into possible alternate care facilities to aid hospitals in the event of a surge.
"These alternate care sites are really part of our every day plan whether it be hurricane or man made or natural disaster. So we have numerous facilities that can be stood up on a relatively short basis and it’s really a matter of applying that COVID-19 model to that already exercised plan," said Hillsborough County Fire Rescue Chief Dennis Jones.
The county previously said it identified the Yuengling Center at the University of South Florida as a possible alternate site. A spokesperson for the university issued this statement:
USF is pleased to partner with Hillsborough County to assist our local communities in times of need, such as a virus outbreak or a hurricane. The Yuengling Center has been used by Hillsborough County in the past, most recently for Hurricane Irma in 2017 when the facility served as a shelter for county residents with special needs.
USF is currently in planning discussions with representatives from Hillsborough County regarding how the Yuengling Center might be best utilized to help with the coronavirus outbreak, if the facility is needed at some point in the future.
Emergency management director Tim Dudley told members of the Hillsborough County Emergency Policy Group Thursday they had a conference call with medical directors to continue discussions of a surge plan.
"There’s still quite a bit of planning we have to do but it’s a great thing the community’s coming together. This is what a resilient community looks like all the lead healthcare execs were not the line this morning and committed to coming up with a community solution," said Dudley.
Alternate care facilities can already be seen in use in New York City and on the grounds of hospitals in other parts of the country.
"The point is all of the planning that’s going on now and what you’re seeing implemented is built on a foundation of planning that’s actually occurred over the years. The challenge is that every emergency has some unique aspects and so whatever you plan previously has to be tailored to the current situation," said Dr. Marissa Levine, a professor of public health and family medicine at USF.
Levine said the concepts of the sites aren't new, explaining they're used individually for tuberculosis patients. She called the current steps smart planning and preparation.
"I think probably the critical message for the community is continue all of your physical distancing hygienic practices because we really don’t want to implement these unless possible and even if we don’t implement them we don’t want those to be overwhelmed. And that’s where the whole community working together can have an impact," she said.
Across the Tampa Bay area, Pinellas County has a hotel under contract to utilize as both a quarantine and isolation facility. The nonprofit Directions for Living is providing transportation for homeless clients in a van retrofitted with an airtight barrier
A county spokesperson said they're also working on a plan with hospitals to identify possible alternate care sites if they're needed.