Chicago uses hotels for quarantine to ease hospital demand

The newly renamed Hotel 166, located near the Northwestern University Hospital complex is seen Monday, March 23, 2020, in Chicago. The city of Chicago plans to reserve thousands of hotel rooms for people with mild cases of the coronavirus and others unable to return to their homes while awaiting test results, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced Monday. Lightfoot said the city has partnered with five hotels, including the Hotel 166, and will have 1,000 rooms available by Tuesday. She estimates 2,000 rooms will be available by the end of the week. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
The newly renamed Hotel 166, located near the Northwestern University Hospital complex is seen Monday, March 23, 2020, in Chicago. The city of Chicago plans to reserve thousands of hotel rooms for people with mild cases of the coronavirus and others unable to return to their homes while awaiting test results, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced Monday. Lightfoot said the city has partnered with five hotels, including the Hotel 166, and will have 1,000 rooms available by Tuesday. She estimates 2,000 rooms will be available by the end of the week. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

CHICAGO – Hours before his first shift cooking for people with mild cases of COVID-19 who are being quarantined in a downtown Chicago hotel, Jose Gonzalez made a plan to protect his family from the coronavirus.

Chicago's plan to reserve at least 1,000 hotel rooms through partnerships with five hotels is the first such sweeping strategy unveiled in the U.S. aimed at relieving the pressure on hospitals that are the only option for the seriously sick.

But it will assuredly not be the last.

Government officials nationwide are searching for facilities that could act as a relief valve for hospitals amid building concern that demand will exceed available space and equipment for coronavirus patients with severe symptoms.

Gonzalez, 27, said he has been reassured that only city employees will interact with patients. But he's planning to frequently wash his hands and take other steps to limit his chances of becoming ill or spreading the virus to his 5-year-old daughter and fiancee.

“My biggest concern is just making sure I don't catch the virus,” he said.

Samir Mayekar, deputy mayor for neighborhood and economic development in Chicago, said the city's public health team wanted a plan that teamed with hotel owners and their staff, rather than a takeover run entirely by public employees as in cities in Asia and Europe.

“Quarantine and isolation units are going to be used in every city across the country eventually, in their own way, shape and form,” Mayekar said. “Every hour, every day counts.”