During much of the pandemic, New York City has attempted to slow the spread of the coronavirus by offering free hotel rooms to those infected who cannot easily isolate themselves from those they live with.
But the large number of people sick with the Omicron variant can overwhelm the hotel program – both for the general public and another for people living in homeless shelters.
At a Brooklyn shelter this week, 11 women who had tested positive for the virus were crammed into a small room furnished with only a few mattresses on the floor and several chairs, two of the women said.
Four people who tried to take advantage of the hotel’s main quarantine system said Thursday they either waited days to get a room, abandoned and paid for one themselves, or were stranded for hours on end. city hotline without anyone choosing. at the top. Others have job Twitter posts on their own long waits.
“I requested a hotel over 5 days ago and they still haven’t arranged transportation for me,” Brittny Gaston from Brooklyn tweeted Friday morning. Ms Gaston, 26, a medical assistant, said in an interview that when she finally spoke to someone, she was told she was not eligible for the program as she no longer needed to put herself up. in quarantine, even though she still had symptoms of Covid-19 and two people in her family had underlying health issues. “I really wanted to cry on the phone,” she said.
As the number of new cases of the virus in the city has skyrocketed to 130,000 so far this week, from 16,000 in the first week of December, the city unit that manages the main hotel quarantine program declined to say if there had been a wait for the rooms.
The hotel program, which the city calls “the only free and major hotel isolation program in the country”, began in June 2020 with 1,200 rooms. A spokesperson for the Test and Trace Corps, the unit of the municipal health agency and hospitals that manages the program, said on Friday that nearly 30,000 people have used the hotels so far.
It was not clear how many rooms were involved in the program now, but the spokesperson wrote in an email that demand for hotels had “increased rapidly” as Omicron spread and two more. hotels were added this week, with more to follow if needed.
Cathy Guo, 29, a New York University graduate student who lives with three roommates, said that after two of them tested positive for the virus shortly before Christmas, all four went through many hours each on standby with the city hotline without reaching anyone.
Finally, Ms. Guo said that on Monday – about four days after the second roommate tested positive – one of the four was transferred to a line where a recording showed there were 150 people in front of her waiting. Three hours later, a dispatcher came over and said the city would send someone to bring the sick roommate to a hotel.
“They still haven’t come,” Ms. Guo said on Friday morning.
On Friday, calls to the hotline were answered with a recording asking the caller to leave a message.
Monte Monteleagre, who lives in Manhattan, described a different telephone ordeal that yielded an equally unsuccessful result.
After testing positive for the virus on December 18 and called to inquire about the hotel’s schedule, he was put on hold for over 90 minutes while being forced to press a button every few minutes to keep its place online.
“I missed the prompt once and had to start over from the back of the line,” he said.
When Mr Monteleagre, 26, finally spoke to someone, he was told he would receive a callback within two days. It took five days for the call to arrive, he said. By then, he and his roommate had made other arrangements.
Violetta Barberis, 47, who said she tested positive for the virus on December 20 and whose husband has a severely compromised immune system, wanted a hotel room immediately after learning of her result. She said she was told she would have to wait 48 hours.
“We paid out of pocket which is super boring but we had to do it,” said Ms. Barberis, who lives in Lower Manhattan. “I can imagine that for people who had less financial flexibility, that would be impossible.”
Those who seek refuge in homeless shelters have experienced their own frustrations.
The shelter system has a separate network of hotels from which it rents quarantine rooms. The city’s homelessness services department said on Wednesday there were 400 vacant quarantine and isolation beds available at those hotels.
But at the Broadway House women’s shelter in Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood, two women who said they tested positive described being crammed into a small room known as the “library” with a total of 11 women, some of whom were stayed there for several days. Both women said they were told there were no hotel rooms available.
Some women in the library slept on bare mattresses. One, Anna Ortiz, who suffers from multiple disabilities, was less fortunate.
“They put me on the ground,” she said. “There were only three or four mattresses in the library room.
The floor is not carpeted. Ms Ortiz, 51, who has chronic asthma and heart problems and uses a walker, said she was not given a blanket or pillow.
“I felt like I was being treated like an animal,” she said.
Another woman, who said she stayed in the room on Tuesday and Wednesday evening, uploaded video showing four women slumped uncomfortably in hard-backed chairs, one of them with her head bowed on a desk. The women’s belongings were crammed into garbage bags on the floor.
“It’s appalling the way we have to live as human beings – and as a taxpayer -” said the second woman, who is 62, works at UPS and also suffers from chronic asthma. She spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals from workers at the shelter.
The Department of Homeless Services did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday.
Deborah Diamant, director of legal affairs for the Coalition for the Homeless, said the agency should have anticipated the increase in demand for hotel rooms. The weekly number of new Covid-19 cases in urban shelters rose to 281 this week from 36 at the end of November, according to city data.
The agency had previously been criticized for moving thousands of people from temporary hotel accommodation to dormitory-like shelters in the summer despite the continued threat of infection.
“DHS should have been prepared for this,” Ms. Diamant said Thursday. “They weren’t and here they are jostling each other.” She noted that the city is legally obligated to provide residents of the shelter with a bed with a clean mattress and a lockable place to store their belongings.
Ms Ortiz and the second woman who was forced to stay in the library both said they were transferred to a hotel in Queens on Thursday where each has a roommate. Ms Ortiz said she was disgusted with the way the city had treated them.
“I would never do that to my worst enemy,” she said.