Saskatchewan’s hospitality association hopes to house vulnerable people in hotels during the COVID-19 pandemic, alleviating pressure on hospitals should they reach capacity.
Hospitals around the globe are overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients — something Saskatchewan Hotel and Hospitality Association (SHHA) president Jim Bence hopes the province can avoid.
“Health care could find itself at capacity pretty quick,” Bence told Global News.
“If we’re proactive and we start to make moves so that we get folks into appropriate housing, that could really relieve some of the pressure for those critical care beds.”
Non-essential travel came to a screeching halt when the novel coronavirus started to spread, causing many Saskatchewan hotels to close temporarily, he said.
Conversations between the SHHA and provincial government are ongoing, exploring ways to use those properties to house vulnerable groups, including hospital patients and homeless people.
“There’s a number of different cadres of folks out there that really need housing,” Bence said.
“If we can start to have people come from our health care system and into other housing, it makes total sense so that when … a crunch does come, that we’re already ahead of the game.”
Different groups of people would be housed in the hotels best-suited to their needs, Bence said. Facilities that have hundreds of rooms and full-service kitchen facilities, for example, could be used for higher-needs hospital patients.
Bence said hoteliers across the province responded positively when asked if they would support the initiative.
“I’m really encouraged by the enthusiasm, whether it’s by government or by my membership, that we’ll be able to prepare adequately for what’s to come,” he said.
A government spokesperson said Saskatchewan’s health ministry is exploring all options to handle potential overflow, noting it has received an offer of assistance from the SHHA.
Saskatchewan’s social services ministry did not confirm whether plans are underway to house homeless people in hotels, but said it can arrange hotel stays when emergency shelters don’t suffice.
Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark said key stakeholders are considering using hotels to address the housing gaps caused by the pandemic, but they have yet to land on a solution.
“One of the big challenges in Saskatoon is that a lot of the existing agencies that have provided services to the homeless have had to close their doors because of some of the social distancing … issues,” Clark said in an interview on Thursday.
“In Saskatoon, we’re open to whatever strategy is going to be the most effective.”
— With files from Kyle Benning and Mandy Vocke
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers across Canada are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. In Saskatchewan, international travellers are already required to self-isolate for 14 days upon their return to the province.
Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.
To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.
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