Are coronavirus hotels effective?

Hotel quarantine to be mandatory for arrivals to Israel from abroad.

Individuals get set up at a corona-designated hotel in Jerusalem, December 21, 2020.  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Individuals get set up at a corona-designated hotel in Jerusalem, December 21, 2020.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Three days after deciding to compel all travelers disembarking flights from Britain, Denmark and South Africa to go directly to “corona hotels” for quarantine, due to fear of the highly infectious COVID-19 variant spreading in the UK and other places, Israel will from 10 p.m. on Wednesday begin doing the same for everyone arriving from abroad.
Previously, arrivals from abroad who were required to quarantine were allowed to self-isolate, usually at home, if they had the right setup to do so.
The big question: Are the corona hotels effective in halting transmission of the novel coronavirus?
Israel has been experiencing an increase in coronavirus cases for the past month. For almost a week now, the country has been averaging close to 3,000 new infections per day and on Monday reached over 3,500.
No one, The Media Line found, seems to have data demonstrating the efficacy of corona hotels in stopping the disease from spreading. The Health Ministry, Defense Ministry and the Israel Defense Forces Home Front Command, which operates the corona hotels, all failed to provide statistics.
“In general, the best way to isolate is to stay at home,” Prof. Nadav Davidovitch, director of the School of Public Health at Ben-Gurion University’s Faculty of Health Sciences in Beersheba, told The Media Line.
“But, the fact is, some groups cannot always quarantine at home due to the density of their household. Someone with the coronavirus in a three-room apartment and a 10-member family cannot be expected to properly isolate. Thus was born the corona hotel concept,” according to Davidovitch, who is among the experts called upon to advise the government on how to combat the virus.
There are two categories of corona hotels: hotels meant to isolate those who may have been exposed to the virus, and recovery hotels, for those diagnosed with the coronavirus but who do not require hospitalization.
Early on, the experts examined the needs of populations that because of general larger household sizes, notably the Jewish ultra-Orthodox and the Arab sectors, would have more difficulty properly self-isolating, he noted.
During the first and second national lockdowns, the recovery hotels were a success according to one person who served some 60 days as a reserve soldier for the Home Front Command in various hotels, who was not authorized to speak with the media.
“I can tell you we received personal thank-you notes and phone calls from many of those who stayed in the corona hotels. I especially find this interesting because many of the thanks came from those from ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities who do not serve in the IDF and do not really understand its workings,” he told The Media Line.
Davidovitch, when asked why there were corona hotels in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem but none currently in the Arab sector, responded, “There is no real solution for the Arab population.”
Bearing this out, currently, nine of the top 10 Israeli communities with the highest rates of COVID-19 infection are in the Arab sector.
Prof. Faisal Azaiza, dean of the Faculty of Social Welfare and Health Sciences at the University of Haifa, commented, “The government and its various committees are insensitive and show a lack of seriousness to the needs of the country’s ‘other’ populations like the Arabs. It is an old story.”
“If the government had set up corona hotels in and near the Arab sector, say in Nazareth, for all of those who had traveled abroad to Turkey, where they most likely picked up coronavirus and brought it back to their communities, we would have probably stopped the infection chain,” he told The Media Line.
Azaiza said it was his sense that during the first national lockdown last spring, the Arab sector was successful in halting the infection chain by taking those who fell ill from the virus out of their communities. But he was cautious, saying he had no numbers and had not seen research to substantiate this.
“The Arab community is filled with doctors and nurses who are really on the front-lines fighting the pandemic. We know what do to. Unfortunately, the government is not taking a holistic approach to fighting the pandemic in our communities,” he offered.
Rabbi Sid Slivko, spiritual leader of the Bay Terrace Garden Jewish Center in Queens, New York, saw large differences between his two quarantines in the hotels in June and again in October, following trips outside of Israel.
“In June, I could leave my room for common areas, whereas in October I was very much quarantined in my room,” he told The Media Line.
“The only person I saw during my second quarantine period was the maintenance man who made me stay inside the bathroom when he came to fix the window,” said Slivko.
For Jonathan Hartstein, formerly of Columbus, Ohio, isolation was filled with “complete silence” and felt like “solitary confinement.”
“We looked forward to someone knocking on our door announcing food had arrived. We literally jumped to open the door but reminded ourselves to wait until the food deliverer had left,” he told The Media Line. He was quarantined with his wife and daughter.
Following their stays in the corona hotels, neither the Hartsteins nor Slivko reported any follow-up from any government agency regarding the coronavirus.
According to the Home Front Command source, this is because the IDF is only responsible for the hotels; once people leave, follow-up becomes someone else’s issue.
“Our authority is only in the hotels and the people inside,” he said.
As Israel implements the cabinet decision to close its skies to foreigners and to force all Israelis returning from abroad to go directly to corona hotels, life for the travelers may prove a difficult proposition. This was found to be the experiences of those who arrived this past Sunday from the UK.
Lack of food, lack of respect and unkept promises were the most pressing issues for these travelers taken directly to corona hotels.
“When we landed, security officers got on the plane. It was strict and horrible. ‘Give us your passports,’ they said. We had no choice in the matter as we were taken off the plane and picked up our luggage. We waited an hour before buses, with a police escort, took us to the hotel in Jerusalem,” said Eddie Webber, who was on EasyJet Flight 2083 and spoke to The Media Line.
Three hours after landing, the passengers from the flight arrived at their hotel in Jerusalem. It took them another two and a half hours before they reached their rooms.
“It was vile, disgusting and horrible. We had no food and nothing to drink. Only Monday morning at 10:30 did we receive some bread and jam. Sure, there is a hot water kettle in my room but no coffee, milk, tea or sugar. And this afternoon, our lunch was cold.
“The EasyJet flight attendants told us at the start of the flight that there was a strong possibility we would be quarantined at a hotel. I had already readied a place in my Tel Aviv apartment for isolation, so I thought I would not need it,” said Webber.
“There is a nasty atmosphere here. We are not criminals. In the hallway is a loudspeaker telling us to keep in our rooms,” he continued.
“All we want is respect. Feed us properly and look after us. Provide the corona tests. We will do it [observe quarantine],” promised Webber.
It remains to be seen what will happen as more and more Israelis fly home and are sent directly to corona hotels.
In a statement to The Media Line, the Health Ministry wrote, “Unfortunately, among those isolating at home, there are many violations of ministry guidelines that lead to contagion. In contrast, isolating at a corona hotel is more effective in preventing contagion and the various guidelines are better maintained by those undergoing quarantine.”
The IDF Spokesman’s Office provided this response to The Media Line:
“In order to protect the public health and the health of people who have been infected with the coronavirus, and in order to ease the congestion in hospitals, the Home Front Command operates community recovery hotels for coronavirus carriers who are in a mild medical condition, in collaboration with the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Health.”
“Regarding the specific cases, the hotel staff together with the Home Front Command are doing everything in their power to help make the stays of those quarantined in the corona hotels pleasant. Food is provided for everyone staying in the hotel on a daily basis. If necessary, the hotel staff increases the number of meals provided at the request of the guests. Every complaint is dealt with individually and with full attention from the hotel staff,” the Spokesman’s Office said.