As we and NBC4 reported this week, the Days Inn at 4400 Connecticut Avenue is one of five hotels operating as Covid-19 quarantine sites in the District. At the ANC 3F virtual meeting on Tuesday, April 21st, a representative of the hotel’s management company said it has been a quarantine site since April 10th.
Also at the meeting: Chris Geldart, the director of the DC Department of Public Works. He is running the citywide Covid-19 response for Mayor Bowser’s office. Here is a summary of his update and responses to questions from ANC commissioners, the community and Ward 3 Council member Mary Cheh.
As of Tuesday, there were 222 people at the city’s five quarantine sites. The sites are for homeless people who have been or might have been exposed to the coronavirus. It’s also for those who cannot return to their own homes to quarantine because someone there is vulnerable to infection. And in some cases, Geldart said, the people can’t go home because someone there is recovering from a coronavirus-related illness. Many are there to await test results, and if those results come back negative, they can leave. People stay between five and 14 days.
The city is not treating the hotels as medical facilities. Medical personnel are on hand to check on quarantined people, to ensure they are getting medication for other health conditions, and to assess whether they need to be transported to a hospital, but the doctors and nurses are not providing medical care.
Security personnel are also on hand to ensure people do not leave the hotel until they are cleared to do so. Everyone who checks in is told they need to stay in their rooms. Meals are provided to them. If they refuse to comply, they are removed.
In response to the NBC4 report, Geldart said the trash overflowing from dumpsters was not medical waste, but the same kind of trash someone quarantining at home might produce. Waste management has been informed that the hotel needs more frequent trash pickups. And the hotel staff has been told not to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) other than masks and gloves outside – a reference to the worker seen leaving and returning to the hotel in a gown.
Council member Cheh next questioned Geldart about staff safety procedures. They are trained, he said, in the proper way to don and doff PPE. The majority of staff do not require more than gloves and a mask, and only a few have contact with the people in their rooms. The ones that do go in for welfare checks or to deliver meals are required to suit up in more protective gear. And they are required to remove that gear before they go to other areas of the hotel or outside.
Geldart said the staff member spotted in a gown outside the Days Inn was wearing his own Tyvek suit, and it was not medical issue. Some workers, he said, wear what makes them feel safe. He said he has personally told the staff they are not to wear such PPE outside of the facility.
A thread that came up often in Cheh’s questioning was her dismay over learning about the Days Inn quarantine site from a reporter, not from the city. She said many of the community’s concerns could have been allayed by transparency, and even then, the comments she was receiving from her constituents in Ward 3 were supportive of the site. People want to help, she said.
Geldart suggested that in her case, the fast-moving nature of the crisis caused some communication to fall through the cracks. As for the community, he said that HIPAA and other patient privacy concerns had held back wider reporting.
Geldart was also asked how the city chose the facilities. “We are lucky to have Days Inn,” he said. The hotel’s management was concerned about the pandemic and wanted to offer assistance. “Not all are like that,” Geldart said. The District found some that were willing to help and performed site assessments “to ensure that if there is any risk to the community, we minimize to the maximum extent.” He did not elaborate on that.
ANC 3F04 Commissioner Leah Frelinghuysen wanted to know what types of disinfectants are used for cleaning. The same used to clean government facilities, said Geldart: bleach wipes, bleach products, disinfectant sprays. 3F05 Commissioner Andrew Molod and other commissioners and some members of the community objected to the idea that the trash produced is not medical waste.
During questioning by ANC 3F03 Commissioner Naomi Rutenberg, Geldart revealed that the District is getting increased amounts of testing capability, and within the next week or so, rapid testing could be in place. It will be put to use first in places with vulnerable populations, like the quarantine sites.
And to the people who wanted to offer help, Geldart recommended visiting Serve DC’s website. People who want to donate goods, services or volunteer their time to the Covid-19 response are invited to fill out this form.