Hotels, cruise ships and hospitals for coronavirus: is it safe?

At the Sheraton Fairplex Hotel in Pomona, the gym and swimming pool are closed, the breakfast buffet has been closed, and the 244-room property is no longer accepting reservations.

Instead, the hotel on the grounds of the Fairplex is playing a role in the fight against the coronavirus outbreak by hosting more than 30 healthcare professionals and first responders who have been exposed to the virus or have tested positive and n ‘have nowhere else to self-quarantine. .

“So far it has worked well,” said Miguel Santana, general manager of Fairplex, the 487-acre facility that includes the hotel and hosts the Los Angeles County Fair and other events each year.

Since the pandemic virtually shut down the country’s travel and tourism industries, some hotels and cruise lines have offered their empty rooms to relieve pressure from hospitals that have been inundated with people suffering from COVID-19.

Several government agencies in the United States and abroad have turned to hotels to house the sick and frontline warriors during the crisis. As for cruise ships, not so much.

Health care experts and engineers say they are not surprised that government agencies are reluctant to turn cruise ships into floating hospitals.

Andrea Hricko, professor emeritus at USC’s Keck School of Medicine, said the proximity and history of epidemics on cruise ships make medical use “a terrible idea.”

“It would add to our public health crisis to operate cruise ships as hospitals,” she said.

Neither hotels nor cruise ships would be ideal for treating critically ill COVID-19 patients, but hotels could accommodate “low-severity care” patients because conference centers and other facilities can hold the necessary medical supplies, Summer Johnson McGee, dean of the School of Health Sciences at New Haven University, said in an email.

“A cruise ship is not a place for a seriously ill person, and a hotel cannot be an intensive care unit,” she said.

Another problem is that hotels and cruise ships usually have a common ventilation system that would make it difficult for the virus to spread from coronavirus patients to people who do not have the virus.

“If hotels and cruise ships are only used for non-coronavirus patients or only for coronavirus patients, they should be OK,” said Qingyan “Yan” Chen, professor of mechanical engineering and systems expert. ventilation at Purdue University, in an email. “But, you should never mix the two groups of patients. Mixing them together is likely to cause cross-contamination and these non-coronavirus patients would be at great risk. “

Carnival Corp., the world’s largest cruise line with 105 cruise ships under its nine brands, on March 19 offered to convert the ships into temporary hospitals. The company said the ships, with a total of 254,000 beds, could treat non-COVID-19 patients, freeing up ground hospitals to focus on victims of the virus.

“As part of the offer, interested parties will be asked to cover only the essential costs of the vessel’s operations in port,” Carnival said in a statement.

The offer arrived a few days later Carnival has announced that “out of excess of caution” it will temporarily halt operations of its North American brands, including Carnival Cruises and Princess Cruises.

The US State Department issued a warning on March 8 urging U.S. citizens to stop traveling on cruise ships, saying ship passengers are more likely to contract coronavirus infection and could be subject to quarantines and other international travel restrictions.

Carnival has had conversations with U.S. and foreign governments about using empty cruise ships, but no final agreement has been reached, Carnival spokesman Roger Frizzell said on Tuesday.

Two other giant global cruise lines, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line, could not be reached for comment.

Frizzell rejected claims that people are more likely to contract a disease, such as norovirus, on Carnival cruise ships than anywhere else.

“It’s a myth,” he said in an email. “All over the world there are epidemics of norovirus on land that occur in about 13% of the population each year, but norovirus only occurs on cruise ships at a rate of 0.007%. “

Cruise ships are cleaned regularly and inspected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Frizzell.

But Hricko, the retired professor of preventive medicine, pointed to CDC data showing norovirus outbreaks have been reported on cruise ships between nine and 12 times a year over the past five years.

McGee, the dean of New Haven University, is concerned that cruise ship cabins are too small for a bed, health equipment, and medical teams to care for a sick patient.

“Although ships are generally accessible to people with disabilities, they were not designed to provide patients and staff with hospital beds, stretchers and other large equipment,” she said. .

Frizzell said all cruise ship rooms comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The hospitality industry has been hit hard by the pandemic, with occupancy rates in the United States dropping from around 80% a month ago to an average of around 20% at the end of March, according to STR, a data company hoteliers.

The American Hotel and Lodging Assn., A trading group for the nation’s hotels, last month asked the Trump administration for $ 150 billion in aid to survive the crisis.

More than 15,000 hotels have offered to provide temporary accommodation for rescuers and healthcare workers, the professional group said. The association said some hotels have also volunteered to be used as temporary hospital facilities, but a spokesperson for the group said he did not know how many have been converted for hospital use.

In a Pentagon briefing, Lieutenant General Todd Semonite, commanding general of the US Army Corps of Engineers, said last month that the US military and the Army Corps of Engineers had created a plan to convert hotels, university dormitories and convention centers in hospitals. rooms.

The plan would require the removal of carpeting, the addition of nursing stations, emergency backup power, electrical outlets, mobile workstations, laundry baskets and overbed tables, among others. changes.

To ensure the virus does not escape through the ventilation system, Semonite said, hotel rooms and dormitories need to be converted to “negative pressure” rooms by adjusting the ventilation system to pump more air. air inside and out and by sealing the front door with plastic sheeting and a zippered opening.

“It’s a relatively straightforward process,” he said.

Most of the rooms offered by the hospitality industry are used to accommodate first responders and COVID-19 patients who have mild symptoms and do not need advanced medical treatment.

Last month, New York City began housing healthcare workers with symptoms of coronavirus in hotels, after the same strategy was deployed in Spain and China.

San Francisco also announced last month that it is identifying at least 3,500 hotel rooms to house people who test positive for the virus but do not need a hospital room.

Aimbridge Hospitality – the largest operator of Marriott, Hilton and Hyatt hotels – announced in late March an agreement with Trestle Health & Housing to make more than 700 hotels with 103,000 rooms across the United States available to help fight the pandemic, according to Trestle. .

In Los Angeles County, the Sheraton Fairplex Hotel is one of four hotels and an RV park used to house more than 60 healthcare professionals, first responders, and those who have been exposed to the virus but don’t do not yet need acute medical treatment.

“It’s not a hospital like the one you would see at Pomona Valley Medical Center, with ventilators and other equipment,” Santana said. “The rooms are as before. “

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About Mohammed B. Hale

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