Checking in is easy. Checking out? Not so much.

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Checking in will be a lot easier than checking out for COVID hotel guests. | Jason Kuffer via Flickr

When Mayor Lori Lightfoot this week announced the city will pay five hotels about $175 a night for thousands of guest rooms to house COVID-19 patients, the arrangements sounded pretty comfy.

The deal, designed to provide relief for hospitals that may run out of beds, has been heralded as providing “temporary accommodations” a “housing option,” and “a sanctuary for those who need it during this difficult time.”

COVID guests will get a comfortable hotel room and three meals a day on the city’s dime.

But, CWBChicago has learned, these guests will also encounter some unorthodox amenities. Not the least of which will be the security guards and Chicago police officers who are on-property to ensure that the “guests” don’t “check out” until the city says so.

And some Chicago cops who may be called on to physically restrain uncooperative hotel guests are raising serious questions about the arrangements.

Mandatory stay

Anyone who receives a COVID-19 diagnosis or who is waiting for test results can transfer to one of the city-furnished hotel rooms if they “cannot safely return home and do not need hospital care,” according to information from the city’s pandemic Joint Information Center.

But, once they check-in, they cannot leave until the city gives them a clean bill of health, a spokesman confirmed. On-duty Chicago police officers and private guards will be securing the hotels, the spokesperson said.

Chicago Department of Public Health staff members will first “try to convince” people who change their mind about the hotel accommodations to stay, according to a source with knowledge of the hotel operations plan. But if those efforts fail, cops will be asked to step in.

Asked directly if CPD officers might be called upon to physically prevent “guests” from leaving the hotels, the spokesperson simply said, “yes.”

“Ideally, individuals will comply following a warning as well as a conversation meant to educate individuals about the ramifications of breaking quarantine,” the spokesperson said.

But a Chicago cop told CWBChicago this week, “officers are concerned for several reasons. They are inside a location with confirmed infected people without any personal protective equipment (PPE) unless they need to go hands-on.”

The police department this month infamously gave its officers potentially ineffective hand sanitizer that hasn’t been manufactured in eight years to ward off the virus.

CPD spokesperson Howard Ludwig said the department, “is working to ensure all officers assigned to the hotels are equipped with PPE and utilize them whenever they’re in close contact with individuals with COVID-19.”

But the cop had another concern.

“Not complying with quarantine is only a Class A misdemeanor,” the cop noted. “The whole thing is a disaster waiting to happen because, at some point, an officer is gonna go hands-on [to keep a “guest” from leaving] and there is no way in hell the city will back them.”

Earlier this month, two Chicago cops with less than three years on the force were stripped of their police powers after one of them shot an apparently unarmed man as they tried to stop him for a simple ordinance violation — passing between two CTA train cars. Those two officers were reportedly assigned to the CTA transit detail by reverse seniority.

Cops assigned to hotel duties “will be selected at the discretion of the command staff,” Ludwig said Thursday.

Neighborhood concerns

Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd), whose ward includes some of the city’s quarantine hotels,  explained some aspects of the operating plan in an email to constituents.

“The self-containment protocol ensures that no person shall enter or exit the building without approval from CDPH under any circumstances,” Hopkins explained.”No medical care will be available at the hotel.” 

Hopkins added that the city’s agreement to use the newly-christened Hotel One Sixty-Six, 166 East Superior, “ended the prolonged labor dispute that impacted the neighborhood for a considerable time before the pandemic arrived. Critical hotel staff will return to work performing security, front desk, kitchen, and other tasks.”

None of the hotel workers will come into contact with quarantined individuals, Hopkins said.

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