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Chicago rents thousands of empty hotel rooms for people who can’t isolate at home

Those diagnosed with COVID-19 or are awaiting test results will be housed in Chicago hotels

Chicago’s downtown has more than 45,000 hotel rooms that aren’t getting much use. Now, with new measures to help residents who are exposed to COVID-19, some of those empty rooms will be rented by the city.

Mayor Lightfoot’s administration has negotiated with local hotel operators to rent as many as 2,000 rooms by the end of the week. Officials are taking this step to prevent strain on local hospitals and decrease the spread of the disease—currently there isn’t a shortage of hospital rooms in Chicago.

Chicago is one the first cities to implement a program that turns vacant hotel rooms into isolation spaces like this. As healthcare facilities begin seeing an increase in patients, more cities are beginning to look at how public and private space can be used differently. In New York, officials were considering a plan to turn hotels into hospitals. In Seattle, a suburb turned its soccer field into a makeshift hospital. In Los Angeles, officials are looking at plans to convert hotel space and dorms into hospital beds.

Residents who are confirmed to have COVID-19, but don’t have severe enough symptoms to need hospital care, will be able to stay at the city’s rented hotel rooms. Those who can’t isolate at home or are awaiting test results will also be housed there.

The program will likely be expanded so that hospital workers who are exposed to coronavirus patients and want to avoid infecting family members can stay at participating hotels, the city said.

Lightfoot’s administration told the Chicago Tribune that they were renting the hotel rooms for $175 per night, including three meals. The estimated cost to use one hotel for would add up to about $1 million per month, the mayor’s office said.

“These companies and workers stepping up at this time should be held in the highest regard,” said Department of Housing Commissioner Marisa Novara in a statement on Monday. “They are playing an incredibly important role in slowing the spread of this pandemic.”

All hotel workers who work at hotels participating in the quarantine program will go through a training and won’t interact with guests. Those staying at the city-rented rooms will be monitored by staff from the Chicago Department of Public Health.

By Sara Freund Mar 24, 2020, 11:36am CDT on

(Curbed is an American real estate and urban design blog network founded by Lockhart Steele).

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