COVID-19 hotel in Pierce County has cost more than $1M, served fewer than 70 so far

COVID-19 hotel in Pierce County has cost more than $1M, served fewer than 70 so far
(Drew Perine, The News Tribune)

PIERCE COUNTY, Wash. — The temporary care site at a Tacoma Holiday Inn for those who have tested positive or been exposed to COVID-19 has cost Pierce County at least $1.68 million to run, but has served only about 65 people since it opened three months ago.

As of June 30, the county had allocated $1.68 million of its $15 million in FEMA emergency funds, Communications Director Libby Catalinich said.

In the three months since it opened, the isolation and quarantine facility has served 60 to 65 people, according to figures as of July 16 posted on the health department’s website.

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The health department has not said how many are currently staying at the temporary care facility.

The care facility is at the Holiday Inn on South 84th and Hosmer streets in South Tacoma. Up until April, the county had rented the entire hotel, which has 124 beds.

Pierce County has since decided to reduce the number of beds rented. Rather than renting out the entire hotel, 60 beds were rented in April, and as of Wednesday only 40 beds will be reserved, Catalinich said, lowering the overall price.

This rented hotel is for those who are exposed to a confirmed case of COVID-19 case and are unable to safely isolate for 14 days at their own residence to reduce potential spread of the disease.

It also serves those who have tested positive for the virus or who have symptoms and are waiting for test results but do not need hospitalization.

A healthcare provider’s referral is needed for admittance.

As positive COVID-19 cases increase across the state and set a new record Thursday in Pierce County with new cases, there has been an uptick in use.

Jessica Gehle is incident commander for the public health portion of the health department’s response with the county Department of Emergency Management.

She told The News Tribune that although most people prefer to quarantine at home, the number of users at the site has grown along with the number of cases in the area.

“It’s been a resource that’s been invaluable for us to be able to offer it,” she said.

Nigel Turner, director of communicable disease at the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department, told the Pierce County Council on Monday that the center is necessary to provide an option for people without one.

Of the $1.68 million, $1.42 million was spent to rent out the hotel. Another $230,000 has been allocated to provide a nursing staff and more than $16,000 has been spent to clean the facility routinely, according to data provided by Pierce County.

Other expenses include providing shelter for guests’ pets, as well as food and supplies for guests.

An estimated $5.8 million of the $158 million CARES funding the county received from the federal government has been set aside to continue to pay for the temporary care facility for the rest of the year or as long as its needed, Catalinich said.

The contract for the site is reviewed every 30 days.

EASING THE BURDEN

People staying at the hotel cannot have visitors and generally aren’t allowed to come and go. Three meals a day are provided along with “additional drinks and snacks as needed to support people’s health,” according to the health department’s FAQ.

“We encourage each temporary care center to support local businesses and contract locally for food,” the FAQ states.

When the temporary care facility opened April 8, the hotel and health officials placed a fence around the property. Medical professionals staff the facility to provide on-site care.

Temporary care sites are also intended to ease the burden on health care facilities.

“This could include people, for example, who live with an elderly parent or a child who has asthma … Maybe they have roommates who they don’t want to inconvenience,” Dr. Anthony Chen, director of health with the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department, said in a public meeting when the site opened in April.

People cannot simply show up to stay there.

They must be screened by the health department, have known exposure or be suspected of COVID-19 infection, be unable to self-isolate or quarantine and be able to independently perform all activities of daily living.

Staff must deem patients stable enough to be discharged.