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Covid-19 and Omicron News on New Year’s Eve: Live Updates

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For much of the pandemic, one of the ways New York City has tried to slow the spread of the coronavirus has been to offer free hotel rooms to infected people who can’t easily isolate themselves from those they live with.

But the sheer number of people with the Omicron variant can be overwhelming for the hotel’s program – both for the general public and for others in homeless shelters.

Inside a shelter in Brooklyn this week, two women said, 11 women who tested positive for the virus were crammed into a small room furnished with a few mattresses on the floor and several chairs.

Four people who tried to take advantage of the main hotel’s quarantine system, on Thursday, said they either waited days before getting a room, gave up and paid one themselves or got stuck for hours on a city hotline without ever picking one up. above. Aharon Owns Spread Twitter messages about their long waiting times.

“I requested a hotel over 5 days ago and they still haven’t arranged transportation for me,” Brittney Gaston from Brooklyn Friday morning tweet. Ms Gaston, 26, a paramedic, said in an interview that when she finally spoke to someone, she was told she did not qualify for the program because she no longer needed to be quarantined, even though she still had symptoms of Covid-19 and had two people In her home are basic health problems. “I really wanted to cry on the phone,” she said.

With the number of new virus cases in the city rising to 130,000 so far this week, from 16,000 during the first week of December, the city unit that runs the main hotel’s quarantine program declined to say whether there was waiting for rooms.

The hotel program, which the city calls “the country’s only major free hotel isolation program,” began in June 2020 with 1,200 rooms. A spokesperson for Test and Trace Corps, the unit of the city’s Health and Hospitals Agency that runs the program, said Friday that nearly 30,000 people have used the hotels so far.

It is not clear how many rooms are participating in the program now, but the spokesperson wrote in an email that demand for hotels “has increased rapidly” with the spread of Omicron and that two more hotels have been added this week, with more to follow if necessary.

Cathy Jo, 29, a graduate student at New York University who lives with three roommates, said that after two of them tested positive for the virus shortly before Christmas, he spent the four long hours on the city’s hotline without reaching anyone. .

Finally, Ms Guo said, on Monday — about four days after a second roommate tested positive — one of the four was moved to a line where a recording said there were 150 people in front of her waiting. Three hours later, the dispatcher came and said the city would send someone to bring the sick roommate to the hotel.

“They haven’t come yet,” Ms. Guo said early Friday.

Calls to the hotline on Friday were answered with a recording asking the caller to leave a message.

Monty Montelegger, who lives in Manhattan, described a different telephone ordeal that resulted in a similarly fruitless outcome.

After he tested positive for the virus on December 18 and called to inquire about the hotel’s program, he was suspended for more than 90 minutes while forced to press a button every few minutes to keep his place on the line.

“I missed the router once and had to start over from the back of the line,” he said.

When Mr Montlegger, 26, finally spoke to someone, he was told he would receive a call in two days. He said it took five days for the call to arrive. By then, he and his roommate had made other arrangements.

Violetta Barberis, 47, who said she tested positive for the virus on December 20 and that her husband has a severely weakened immune system, wanted a hotel room as soon as the result was known. She said she was told she would wait 48 hours.

“We paid out of our pockets, which is very annoying but it had to be done,” said Ms. Barberis, who lives in lower Manhattan. “I can imagine that for people with less financial flexibility, that would be impossible.”

Those seeking refuge from homeless shelters suffer from their frustration.

The shelter system has a separate network of hotels from which quarantine rooms are rented. The city’s Department of Homeless Services said Wednesday that there are 400 vacant beds for quarantine and isolation in those hotels.

But at the Broadway House women’s shelter in Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood, two women who said they had tested positive described being crammed into a small room known as the “library” that held a total of 11 women, some of whom were kept there for days. The two women said they were told there were no hotel rooms available.

Some of the women in the library sleep on bare mattresses. The first, Anna Ortiz, who has multiple disabilities, was less fortunate.

“They put me on the floor,” she said. “There were only three or four mattresses in the library room.”

The floor is not carpeted. Ms Ortiz, 51, who has asthma and chronic heart problems and uses a walker, said she was not given a blanket or pillow.

“I felt like I was being treated like an animal,” she said.

Another woman, who said she stayed in the room on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, sent a video showing four women lying uncomfortably on hard-rested chairs, one of them head down on a desk. The women’s belongings were stacked in garbage bags on the floor.

“It’s horrific, the way we have to live as humans — and as taxpayers,” said the second woman, 62, who works at UPS and also suffers from chronic asthma. She spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation by shelter workers.

The Homeless Services Administration did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

Deborah Diamant, director of legal affairs for the Homeless Coalition, said the agency should have expected increased demand for hotel rooms. The weekly number of new Covid-19 cases in city shelters jumped to 281 this week from 36 in late November, according to city data.

The agency has previously been criticized for moving thousands of people from makeshift hotel accommodation to dormitory-like shelters in the summer despite the persistent threat of infection.

“DHS should have been prepared for that,” Ms. Diamant said Thursday. “They weren’t scrambling.” She noted that the city is legally obligated to provide shelter residents with a bed with a clean mattress and a lockable place to store their belongings.

Ms Ortiz and the second woman forced to stay in the library both said they were moved on Thursday to a hotel in Queens where they each have roommates. Ms. Ortiz said she was disgusted with the way the city treated them.

“I wouldn’t do that to my worst enemy,” she said.

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