There won’t be any visitors, homeless people or medically fragile guests at the quarantine and isolation hotels set up by the city and state — and guests shouldn’t expect a typical hotel stay with services.
The city is using Oahu hotels to provide free stays for individuals who must quarantine due to COVID-19 exposure.
State Department of Health guidelines provided to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser indicate that hotel rooms used for quarantine and isolation aren’t for visitors who are found upon arrival to lack appropriate quarantine accommodations.
The rooms are also not meant for those who can safely quarantine or isolate at home.
Also, ineligible are: homeless individuals, unaccompanied minors, those enrolled in substance abuse programs, and people who can’t manage their medical care or who are unable to independently feed, dress or bathe themselves.
Guests must be able to walk up two flights of stairs without assistance and not reliant on a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure device or supplemental oxygen.
The stay comes with some rules for participants, who are required to remain in the hotel room for the entire quarantine or isolation period. They must also: monitor their health, respond immediately to daily monitoring calls, and identify themselves as someone who has COVID-19 or has been exposed to it if they call 911 for medical emergencies.
Health Department officials said visitors, weapons, drugs, pets or smoking are not allowed during the hotel stay.
DOH quarantine and isolation guidelines for hotel stays indicate that there’ll be no in-room hotel service while the room is occupied. Contact with people, including hotel staff and volunteers, is expected to be minimized. Food service is strictly knock-and-go, and if someone wants new bed linens they must double-bag the old set in a trash bag and place it outside the hotel room door.
In some cases hotels supply the food; otherwise, Medical Reserve Corps volunteers will purchase and provide contact-less delivery of food, hygiene items and limited household supplies.
The service continues until the Health Department releases at least one person in the household from isolation or quarantine, who will then be able to go to the store for the household.
Those in quarantine and isolation are told not to go outside to meet MRC volunteers and to keep windows and doors closed during deliveries.
Once Health Department releases a guest from quarantine or isolation, checkout time is by 11 a.m. and guests are expected to arrange their own transportation home. Before leaving the hotel, they are told to double-bag all trash and leave it outside the hotel door, turn off the air conditioner, open room windows, leave the key in the room and close the door.
Despite all of the DOH guidelines and rules governing a COVID-19 hotel stay, one recent guest felt the process lacks oversight and said that service was hit or miss.
Rensiana Thomas, a Unite Here Local 5 member who works at United Catering, said she was placed into isolation at the Equus Hotel from July 21 to 30 after health officials told her that she had tested positive for COVID-19 and that she couldn’t stay at home, where her family had only one bathroom to share.
Thomas claims her health wasn’t monitored enough and that her family and co-workers weren’t contacted by state contact tracers. She said she was let out of isolation after only 10 days and wasn’t retested to make sure she was OK. She said she is from Chuuk and wasn’t given an interpreter, and that food and water weren’t brought to her in a timely fashion. Also, it was uncomfortable sleeping on dirty linens for the whole stay. She said she followed the rules, but there was no one to make sure that she complied.
Thomas said she also was worried about staying at the hotel, where she felt her own medical needs were not met. She suggests Hawaii consider setting up health care facilities to use for quarantine, instead of turning to hotels.
“They never came to see me face to face at the hotel. I followed the rules, but I don’t know if anyone was monitoring me,” she said. “They gave me a thermometer and other supplies for checking my heart. I just read the paper, but they didn’t call me and explain. Maybe it’s better to quarantine in the hospital so the nurse gets vital signs and checks the temperature. They are equipped to quarantine in a hospital, but not a hotel.”
Thomas said she understood the need for hotel workers and the Health Department to take safety precautions, but she said it was disconcerting that no one was there to make sure she was OK at a time when she felt medically vulnerable.
“I was not OK during quarantine because I was scared and alone,” she said. “I just keep praying every morning, before lunch and at night. I keep praying that God will protect me.”
Once Thomas was released, she said, she was puzzled that the Health Department didn’t test her for coronavirus again to make she was clear. She also was perplexed that she was told that she could go out in public even though only 10 days had passed, not the 14-day period that she’s seen recommended.
Equus did not immediately respond to the Star-Advertiser.
Health Department spokeswoman Janice Okubo told the Star-Advertiser in an email Sunday that the department appreciates input and feedback on the support services that are provided by the state.
“We have looked into the records related to the isolation services provided in this case and have not found information substantiating the concerns about case investigation, monitoring, contact tracing, or isolation service coordination.
“The case was contacted within 24 hours of the positive test results, and daily check-ins and monitoring calls were completed along with follow-up and contact tracing with household contacts,” Okubo said.
She said isolation release 10 days post symptom onset when the patient is no longer experiencing symptoms is in accordance with guidance, and post-isolation testing currently is not recommended.
“We will continue to work with the community and the individuals receiving services on how we can better support and communicate the expectations of both the DOH and of the people to whom we are providing isolation and quarantine space at no cost to the individual,” Okubo said.
Still, Local 5 spokesman Bryant de Venecia said the Health Department has not responded to the union’s requests for more information about their hotel quarantine and isolation program.
“It’s very concerning that we have no way of knowing which hotels are in the program and what safety protocols have been put in place for workers and for the community,” de Venecia said. “We are pushing for safety measures in all hotels, including non-union properties. We all live in this community and we need to make sure that workers are safe to go home.”
This story was updated to include a response from Janice Okubo, spokeswoman from the the state Department of Health.