Hotels Open as ‘Comforting Refuge’ for Health Care Workers

Days after closing for the first time in its 200-year-history, Claridge’s, the storied luxury hotel in London’s Mayfair district reopened on April 3 to 40 doctors, nurses and other National Health Service workers responding to the coronavirus pandemic.

Claridge’s is one of many hotels around the world that shuttered to the public in recent weeks to follow rules set by governments and health experts, but reopened as lodging for health care workers as it became apparent that many workers would need a place to stay.

“We felt that Claridge’s and all our hotels had a duty to step up,” said Paula Fitzherbert, the director of communications for the Maybourne Hotel Group. “We love London. London is part of what we are and we need to help. We need to step up the way all our health care workers are.”

Ms. Fitzherbert said that the Maybourne Hotel Group, which owns Claridge’s, became aware that as the virus spread, more health care workers would be asked to come to London from surrounding towns and cities, and those people likely wouldn’t have a home in the city. She said offering them a place to stay would alleviate some of their stress as well as keep people from commuting on trains.

Guests will be staying in rooms that typically cost £650 (about $850) a night. Ms. Fitzherbert expressed some disappointment that guests won’t be able to experience the luxurious stay the hotel is known for, but said she was glad that the hotel could still help.

“We’re thinking of this as a comforting refuge rather than a five-star refuge,” Ms. Fitzherbert said. “I hope they’ll be able to come in, run a bubble bath, hopefully relax before going out again.”

To enter the hotel, N.H.S. workers must ring a doorbell and walk up the stairs to their room — the hotel’s famed elevator, the last person-operated elevator in London, is not operational. Breakfast and dinner will be delivered without contact and in to-go boxes, “instead of fine china,” and rooms aren’t being cleaned daily and will likely be kept empty for 48 hours after someone leaves. The meals are being prepared by kitchen staff from three Maybourne Hotel Group hotels.

Ms. Fitzherbert said that Claridge’s has “a skeleton staff staying in house,” and for those commuting, transport is being covered by the hotel, with many employees taking Ubers. When a call to staff to see who would want to volunteer was sent out, almost everyone offered, she said.

Gary Neville, the soccer coach and former Manchester United player, said that at two hotels he co-owns in Manchester, staff also volunteered to come in and tend to N.H.S. workers who are being offered more than 170 rooms. Hotel employees are receiving their usual pay, even if they aren’t currently working. The hotel began planning to service N.H.S. workers in early March.

“We didn’t wait for the U.K. and U.S. governments to lock down because we could see what was coming from the advice we were getting from our Singaporean counterparts,” Mr. Neville said.

Mr. Neville said that at the request of the health care workers, rooms are not being cleaned on a daily basis, and those inside the hotel are following social distancing rules. The rooms will remain dedicated to N.H.S. staff for as long as necessary, Mr. Neville said.

“Medical professionals need to be able to stay away from their families,” he said. “There is no choice for them and there is no choice for us. We have to do this for them. We want to do it.”

At the Sophy Hyde Park, a hotel in Chicago that opened the majority of its rooms to University of Chicago Medical Center staff since March 27, contactless interactions between hotel staff and the health care workers checking in have become routine. Its rooms are open to the hospital’s employees until mid-April, at which point it will begin charging a discounted rate.

“Our staff is across from the front desk, the keys are premade and in the credenza eight feet away from the front,” said Anthony Beach, the hotel’s general manager. “There’s a key-sanitizing station. There’s no handing over of credit cards or anything of that nature, so they can get their keys and go directly to their rooms.”

In New York City, on the night of April 2, the Four Seasons on East 57th Street opened 225 rooms for medical personnel. A hundred rooms were filled three days later. Social-distancing measures begin before people enter the building, with street markers set six feet apart to mark the entryway and help curb the flow of people entering the building at any given moment.

“A single point of entry and screening station has been designated for both guests and employees,” said Bryan Barbieri, a spokesman for the hotel. “Each person will go through a screening process, one at a time, which includes a temperature check and answering a series of questions.”

The hotel’s general manager, Rudy Tauscher, said that inside the hotel, guests and hotel employees are divided into designated areas and told about “green zones” in the hotel, where they are allowed to be.

Beverages and boxed meals are being provided for guests to take on the way to their rooms. After checkout each guest room will be empty for three days and then cleaned and disinfected by a professional third-party company before being cleaned again by the hotel’s housekeeping team.

The Fairmont Royal York, an Accor hotel in Toronto, has opened up 500 rooms to health care workers from three nearby hospital foundations. At this hotel, in-room dining is available and is being delivered without contact between the guests and the hotel staff. Guests can also order delivery from outside restaurants, to be delivered without contact.

Ms. Fitzherbert at Claridge’s and Mr. Neville from the Stock Exchange Hotel and Football Hotel both said that before opening to health care workers, they were in conversation with health and government authorities to figure out the best practices.

In recent weeks, hotels and government officials in the United States have been criticized for not working harder to house health care workers who, in many cases, are unable to go home because they could expose someone in their home to Covid-19. There have been reports of health care employees sleeping in their cars and being verbally abused while hotel rooms have sat empty.

Mr. Tauscher at the Four Seasons in New York said that he has been in discussions with the health organizations, staff at the governor’s office, as well as other hotels.

“If you have several hundred guest rooms you have to be very careful in the logistics,” Mr. Tauscher said. “You can’t just fill up every room. You don’t want to overbook; you want to parallel schedules of cleaning and bringing people in. If we don’t have a clean and safe environment and if we don’t follow many guidelines we would put everyone at risk.”

In New York, a spokeswoman for the State Office of General Services wrote in an email that the state, through consultants like the construction and architecture company LiRo, looked at nearly 30 hotels in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, Long Island and Westchester for housing medical staff and for patient care. The inspection process included looking at each property’s accessibility, HVAC systems, room size, fire suppression systems, lighting and telecom capabilities.

“The State has looked at a number of locations throughout the NYC area, including hotels, dorms, and closed nursing facilities and hospitals to assess the possibility of using them for low acuity patient care and staff housing,” wrote Heather Groll, a spokeswoman for the state Office of General Services, in an email.

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