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Salt Lake County quietly leases hotel for COVID-19 first responders, others

Priscilla Nielsen, an advanced emergency medical technician for the Unified Fire Authority, wears a COVID-19 suit at Station 126 in Midvale on Thursday, March 19, 2020.
Priscilla Nielsen, an advanced emergency medical technician for the Unified Fire Authority, wears a COVID-19 suit at Station 126 in Midvale on Thursday, March 19, 2020.
Steve Griffin, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake County officials have quietly leased another hotel amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

This hotel, county officials say, is to house first responders or others who have come into contact with the virus and can’t self-quarantine at home.

“It is a quarantine and isolation facility, not just for first responders but for families and other members of the community who do not have the ability to self-quarantine or self-isolate and do not have another housing alternative,” Salt Lake County Deputy Mayor Erin Litvack told the Deseret News via email Friday in response to questions about the hotel.

County officials did not publicly announce the hotel. The Deseret News discovered it only after obtaining the county’s lease agreement through a supplemental response to an open records request and confirming the lease agreement was separate than the one county officials executed with a different hotel meant to provide a clean, safe space to house homeless individuals who are high risk for COVID-19.

“We have been looking for a hotel to house COVID-19 positive individuals,” Litvack said when asked why the hotel wasn’t announced. “We have recently been able to finalize a location. It is not our practice to make a public announcement about our quarantine and isolation facilities.”

County officials redacted from the lease the name of the hotel and have declined to disclose its location citing privacy concerns. They took the same steps with the homeless hotel and other quarantine and isolation facilities, which county officials say are being operated in county-owned facilities such as shuttered recreation centers, senior centers or libraries.

“Unified Command made the decision, early in the COVID-19 response, not to share the locations of quarantine and isolation facilities due to privacy of the clients,” Litvack said. “Furthermore, identifying the location of quarantine and isolation facilities potentially reveals private medical information about anyone observed at the facility.”

The Deseret News has appealed the county’s redactions, arguing the public has the right to know how taxpayer-owned and taxpayer-funded facilities are being used, and that the county doesn’t need to go as far as to shield the names and locations of entire buildings when hospitals, clinics and homeless shelters are already public knowledge.

The county is paying $45,000 every two weeks for the hotel, according to the lease agreement. That’s in addition to the $38,675 per week county officials are paying for the hotel to house homeless individuals, according to that lease agreement.

To date, the county has paid over $193,000 since the lease for the homeless hotel was signed April 7. Litvack also confirmed the lease for the first responder hotel, which was first signed April 28, was extended.

County officials have said they intend to seek state or federal reimbursement for expenses related to COVID-19 response.

Litvack said about 30 people have so far been housed in the hotel, where the county has leased 100 rooms.

She declined to release any more specific information about the clients staying there.

“It is critically important to protect the health and well-being of people who are ill and do not have another housing alternative,” Litvack said. “Salt Lake County recognizes the need for long-term quarantine and isolation as positive cases continue to be identified within the community.