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By Laurel Rosenhall, CalMatters

041220HealthCareCoronaCalifornia health care workers may qualify for discounted hotel rooms under a new arrangement Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Thursday as part of the state’s ongoing effort to limit the spread of coronavirus.

More than 150 hotels around California have agreed to provide discounted rooms to help “a workforce that is deeply stressed out,” the governor said — health care workers treating COVID-19 patients who are worried that sleeping at home could expose their families to the virus.

“Some of the nicest and finest hotel chains in the world are participating in this program, providing deep discounts to the state of California, and we will extend those deep discounts directly to our caregivers,” Newsom said.

“They can stay closer to the needs in their communities.”

(Image: Health care workers at a Kaiser hospital in San Francisco on April 9, 2020. Today, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that the state would make hotel rooms available to care providers in regions with high rates of COVID-19 infections who need to self-isolate. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters)

The announcement follows a similar move in New York City, and comes after reports surfaced of a Bay Area nurse spending $2,000 a month to stay in a hotel and an Orange County doctor sleeping in a tent in his garage — both attempting to avoid exposing their families to the virus they may have picked up on the job.

Newsom did not identify the participating hotels or give many details on the cost of discounted hotel rooms. He described a sliding scale that would provide discounts for workers with higher incomes and full reimbursements for lower-wage workers, and said more information will soon be available at this website.

The priority is providing hotel rooms in areas of the state that have dense populations or large numbers of people with COVID-19, including Los Angeles, Santa Clara, Riverside, San Bernardino, Orange, Alameda, Contra Costa, San Francisco, San Diego and Fresno counties. 

Health care workers who have been frustrated by a shortage of protective gear said the discounted hotel rooms amount to “a nice gesture” but fall short of what they want from their employers.

“The bottom line is that health facilities should be providing proper personal protective equipment and infection control practices and policies in the first place so that nurses and other health care workers should not be resorting to living in their cars or camping out in their garages to avoid exposing their loved ones to the COVID-19 virus,” said a statement from National Nurses United spokeswoman Lucia Hwang.

The union, she said, wants employers or the government to cover the full cost of hotel rooms, adding that discounted rooms “do not adequately support nurses who are risking their lives daily to fight on the front lines of this COVID pandemic.”

The cost for the hotel rooms is being shared by the state and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Newsom said, adding that the new stock of rooms for health care workers will not impact a separate effort to house homeless people in hotel rooms. About 2,000 people who were sleeping on the street or in shelters have moved into hotel rooms since the state began a relocation effort last month in response to the pandemic.

Providing discounted hotel rooms for healthcare workers is also a help to the hotel industry, which has been battered by the coronavirus pandemic and government orders for people to stay at home. Occupancy rates are dropping and many hotels are planning to furlough workers or close.

Airlines are also jumping in to help health care workers, Newsom said. United Airlines will provide free flights for medical professionals who sign up for California’s Health Corps, a program to expand the health care workforce, the governor said, and the state is negotiating with other airlines to provide a similar service.

CalMatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.

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