The city is planning to turn a Center City hotel into Philadelphia’s first coronavirus quarantine site, and use it to house homeless people who test positive for the virus, according to two people with knowledge of the plans.
The city will rent all 13 floors of the Holiday Inn Express near 13th and Walnut Streets, said the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the plans.
The hotel, which has more than 100 rooms, is expected to open as a quarantine site by the end of the week. People showing signs of the virus and awaiting test results will quarantine on certain floors, one of the sources said. Anyone who tests positive will be treated in isolation by medical staff on other floors.
City Managing Director Brian Abernathy said he would not confirm any quarantine sites the city opens during the coronavirus crisis, but spoke about the city’s plan for the facilities, which he said are for “people who don’t have any other place to shelter.”
That could include health-care workers who show symptoms during a shift and cannot go home, Abernathy said. Decisions about which non-homeless people will use the facilities will be made on a case-by-case basis, he said.
“It would depend on the advice of doctors about how someone should specifically quarantine,” he said.
The city will provide food to everyone at the quarantine sites and will offer other services to homeless people, including help with finding permanent housing.
Helping Philadelphia’s estimated 5,700 homeless people, especially those who suffer from addiction, during the coronavirus crisis presents city and nonprofit leaders with unique problems and no easy solutions. Providers have already had to overhaul and, in many cases, drastically curtail their services as they struggle with the reality that social distancing isn’t built into their service models.
Homeless people who are diagnosed with or test positive for the coronavirus at one of the city’s federally qualified health centers will be transported to a quarantine site, Abernathy said. The city is exploring options for handling people who are diagnosed with the disease but refuse to quarantine. People with positive test results will not be allowed to come and go from the facility, he said. The city is still working to assemble the support staff and medical personnel needed to operate the site — and gather needed supplies like masks and gloves, one of the sources said.
Councilmember Mark Squilla, whose district includes the Center City hotel, said he supports the plan.
“I told them that any hotel in my district would be great,” Squilla said.
Squilla was one of the most vocal opponents of a plan — which was abandoned after neighbors complained — to open a supervised injection site in South Philadelphia as part of Mayor Jim Kenney’s effort to combat the opioid crisis.
But Squilla said the coronavirus pandemic is different.
“I don’t mind. I mean, listen, I think we need to do it,” Squilla said. “It’s got to be somewhere.”