A plan by Chicago officials to fill thousands of empty hotel rooms with people who have tested positive for or been exposed to the coronavirus is intended to take pressure off hospitals and could also help the struggling hospitality industry amid the global pandemic.
The city expects to have deals in place by Tuesday to rent more than 1,000 rooms in five hotels, and wants to double that number by the end of the week, according to the Chicago Tribune. As of Sunday, there were 598 reported cases of Covid-19 in Chicago and 1,285 statewide, according to the city website.
Among the hotels is the 215-room Hotel One Sixty-Six Magnificent Mile, which lost its affiliation to the Cambria brand in February amid a 16-month strike. That strike cost the hotel a significant amount of business.
The city is paying upfront for the hotel rooms, each costing about $175 per night, and will seek reimbursement from federal funds and other potential sources, according to the Tribune.
The program, led by the city’s health department, can at least help the participating hotels “weather the storm” by covering the cost of property taxes and paying a few staff, but likely won’t make them any money, Illinois Hotel & Lodging Association CEO Michael Jacobson told the Tribune.
The association has already identified more than 12,000 available hotel rooms throughout the state.
During the second week of March, Chicao area hotel occupancy fell to about 44 percent, and to 36 percent at hotels in the city’s central business district, according to industry data firm STR.
The coronavirus outbreak, which has led to a statewide shelter in place order, has already led a handful of Chicago hotels to close, including the Park Hyatt and the Peninsula. Others, including the Four Seasons, Virgin Hotel Chicago, Chicago Athletic Association and The Hoxton, have since followed, the Tribune reported.
Chicago isn’t currently experiencing a shortage of hospital beds, but the hotel program is intended to get ahead of any potential shortage.
Illinois was one of the first U.S. states to enforce a shelter-in-place order late last week.
In New York City, officials are in talks with the industry to convert hotels into temporary hospitals for patients with the virus. And in other parts of the world, some hotels are offering coronavirus quarantine packages to guests in an effort to fill rooms.
[Tribune] — Brianna Kelly