Skip to contents

Coronavirus Patients, People Who Are Homeless To Move Into Hotel Rooms During Outbreak

The city plans to rent thousands of hotel rooms as part of the first-of-its-kind program to give at-risk people a safe place to stay.

The tent city at Belmont Avenue and the Kennedy Expressway.
Mina Bloom/Block Club Chicago
  • Credibility:

CHICAGO — Some Chicagoans with mild coronavirus symptoms and those who are homeless will be provided with hotel rooms during the outbreak, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced Monday.

The city plans to rent thousands of hotel rooms as part of the first-of-its-kind program, which is in partnership with five hotels, Lightfoot said. People who have mild cases of the virus and need to self-isolate will be able to stay in a room, alleviating the burden on hospitals, and people who are homeless will be able to temporarily move in to prevent spread of the virus.

Health care workers who are treating COVID-19 patients will also be able to access the rooms if they are worried about exposing their families to the virus.

The city will likely be able to house 1,000 people by Tuesday and 2,000 people in the hotel rooms by the end of the week, Lightfoot said.

Dr. Allison Arwady, Chicago Department of Public Health commissioner, said the rooms will serve a variety of people who need safe housing at this time.

“These housing options may be used first to temporarily house people who are waiting for test results but who can’t return home because of their living situation,” Arwady said. “They may be used to quarantine high-risk healthy people. And they may be used to isolate people with … COVID-19 but who have a mild illness and who can’t be home because of their living situation.

“We don’t want to have to admit them and use a hospital bed just because there isn’t somewhere safe for them to stay.”

The city will pay about $175 per night upfront for the rooms, which will include three meals, according to the Tribune.

The program will benefit hospitals — which officials fear could become overwhelmed as coronavirus cases surge — and hotels, which are struggling amid the outbreak.

Hotel workers will not come in direct contact with quarantined individuals, Lightfoot said. Public health officials will be in place to deliver any needed medical care, and Arwadt said more volunteers and workers will be recruited and trained if needed as the program expands.

The union workers and management at Hotel 166 even came to an agreement, ending a strike so the hotel would be able to open its rooms up as part of the city’s program.

Karen Kent, president of the Unite Here Local 1 union, said workers wanted to contribute and told her, “It’s the right thing to do.”

There have been 1,049 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Illinois so far, with 490 of those in Chicago.

People with mild cases of coronavirus have been told to self-isolate at home and, if they have roommates or families, to stay in one room to prevent spread of the virus to housemates.

Thus far, people experiencing homelessness have had few options: They were urged to seek shelter under Gov. JB Pritzker’s stay at home order, but many of the city’s shelters are already full or are having to turn people away because they have to reduce capacity for social distancing, according to the Tribune.

Over the weekend, the YMCA partnered with the city to bring in 400 beds to the Y’s Chicago locations so people who are homeless can stay there, as well.

“Goes without saying, folks: We are all in this together and we are leaving no one behind,” Lightfoot said.

Lisa Morrison Butler, head of the Department of Family and Support Services, said the city has been canvassing Chicago and identifying people who are homeless and who are at a higher risk of serious symptoms of COVID-19. They’re trying to gauge how open some of those people would be to moving to shelters.

The department staff has given information and sanitization supplies to people living in encampments, as well.

Pritzker said his administration has been working with local officials around the state to determine how to best help populations of people who are homeless. They are looking into creating facilities where people can temporarily live to prevent the spread of the virus and to help people who do become ill.

An estimated 5,290 homeless people lived in Chicago in 2019, according to the city, with the majority of those people living in shelters.


Coronavirus can be deadly, but the vast majority of cases have been mild. Those most at risk from the virus are people who are elderly or who have underlying health conditions.

Symptoms of coronavirus can appear two to 14 days after a person has been exposed to the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control. People with no symptoms may have the virus and spread it to others.

The virus spreads between people through coughing and sneezing, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

The most common symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath

People have also experienced body aches, nasal congestion, runny nose and sore throat, according to Harvard Medical School.

If you or someone else has difficulty breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, become confused, cannot be roused or develop a bluish face or lips, get immediate medical attention, according to the CDC.

How To Protect Yourself

The CDC only recommends those are already sick wear facemasks because they help you avoid spreading the virus.

Here’s what you can actually do to prevent getting ill:

  • The CDC and other officials have said people should wash their hands often, including before, during and after eating; after using the bathroom; and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.
    The CDC has a guide here for how to properly wash your hands. Remember: Wash with soap and water, scrubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds.
  • If you can’t wash your hands with soap and water, you can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
  • Avoid touching your face, especially your eyes, nose and mouth, with unwashed hands.
  • Clean and disinfect objects and surfaces you touch frequently, like cellphones and light switches. Here are tips from the CDC.
  • Stay home when you’re sick and avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • If you have to sneeze or cough with a tissue, throw it out immediately after using it, according to the CDC.

What To Do If You Think You’re Sick

Even if you’re not showing symptoms, the Chicago Department of Public Health recommends people coming from high-risk countries (here’s a CDC list) self-quarantine for 14 days after returning home.

If you do have symptoms of coronavirus, contact your primary doctor or a health care facility before going in. Explain your symptoms and tell them if you’ve come into close contact with anyone with coronavirus or traveled to an area where COVID-19 is widespread (here’s a CDC list) within the last 14 days, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

From there, the experts will work with your local health department to determine what to do and if you need to be tested for coronavirus, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

And, of course, if you think you’re sick with coronavirus, don’t risk exposing other people to the virus. Anyone who feels unwell has been ordered to stay home or risk getting a $500 fine.

Those with questions and concerns about coronavirus can call the Illinois Department of Public Health at 800-889-3931.

Block Club Chicago’s coronavirus coverage is free for all readers. Block Club is an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom.

Subscribe to Block Club Chicago. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods.

Already subscribe? Click here to support Block Club with a tax-deductible donation.