Hotels give healthcare workers some comfort

Hotels are using their empty rooms as a force for good,
offering to house healthcare workers and other essential personnel as hospitals
across the country grapple with Covid-19 cases.

Marriott International’s Bonvoy loyalty program has launched
its Rooms for Responders initiative, working with credit card partners American
Express and JPMorgan Chase to donate up to $10 million in hotel stays at no
cost to frontline healthcare workers in the U.S. 

Bonvoy will collaborate with the Emergency Nurses
Association and American College of Emergency Physicians to identify medical
professionals in need of accommodations. The Rooms for Responders program
expects to provide an estimated 100,000 room nights to healthcare workers in
hard-hit cities like New York, Newark, Chicago, Los Angeles, Detroit, Las Vegas,
New Orleans and Washington, D.C.  

Likewise, Hilton has teamed up with American Express to
donate up to a million hotel rooms to frontline medical professionals — including
doctors, nurses, EMTs and paramedics — through May 31.

Hilton said donated rooms will be available across the
company’s Hampton, Hilton Garden Inn and DoubleTree flags, among other brands.
Employees at participating properties will receive health and safety training
in order to mitigate risk, while rooms and common areas will continue to be
sanitized using industrial-grade cleaners.

As part of the effort, Hilton and American Express have
partnered with 10 healthcare associations, including the American Association
of Critical Care Nurses, American College of Emergency Physicians, American
Hospital Association and American Nurses Association.

“Knowing that there is a safe, clean and comfortable hotel
room waiting for you at the end of a long shift can make all the difference in
the world right now,” said Dr. William Jaquis, president of the American
College of Emergency Physicians. “The kind of compassion and caring that Hilton
and American Express are offering has never been more welcome.”

In New York, the epicenter of the Covid-19 pandemic, the
Four Seasons New York in midtown was the first New York hotel to officially
offer free accommodations to healthcare workers.

The luxury property announced in late March that it had
partnered with a network of New York medical associations and hospitals to
house doctors, nurses and critical care personnel, welcoming its first
frontline workers on April 2. 

To allow for social distancing, the Four Seasons New York
has made 225 of its 368 rooms available to medical professionals, with the
hotel expecting to reach full capacity by the end of this week.

Stringent entry, check-in and cleaning procedures have been
put in place to protect Four Seasons New York employees and guests. Only one
person is permitted into the building at a time and each person must undergo screening,
including a temperature check. Signage and floor markings are used to designate
proper social distancing throughout the hotel. All meals are boxed and designed
to be consumed in the room.

After a guest checks out, each room will remain empty for
three consecutive days and then cleaned and disinfected by a third-party
company before being cleaned again by the Four Seasons New York housekeeping

“Our healthcare workers are working tirelessly on the front
lines of this crisis,” said Ty Warner, founder and chairman of Ty Warner Hotels
and Resorts, which owns the Four Seasons New York. “Many of those working in New York City have to travel
long distances to and from their homes after putting in 18-hour days. They need
a place close to work where they can rest and regenerate.”

In Dallas, the Statler Hotel has pledged to provide some $30,000 in accommodations and meals to medical professionals. The
property, which is part of Hilton’s Curio Collection, has set aside two floors
to house healthcare personnel, with each medical worker to receive meal
vouchers for a boxed breakfast, lunch and dinner provided daily by Refined
Hospitality Concepts, which operates the Statler’s restaurants.

Sean Terry, vice president of entitlements for Statler Hotel
owner Centurion America, urged other corporate leaders to reach out to the
property’s team with donations, with the hotel willing to allocate additional
space to first responders at cost.

“It is the responsibility of all of us to find creative
solutions to the problems created by the Covid-19 pandemic,” added Terry.

The individual brand and property efforts come as the
American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA) promotes its industry-wide
Hospitality for Hope initiative,
which identifies properties that have offered to provide temporary housing to
emergency and healthcare workers. The AHLA said earlier this week that more
than 15,000 hotels have joined the campaign since its launch.

Also looking to connect hotels with healthcare professionals
is Cloudbeds’ #Hospitalityhelps campaign, which has accumulated well over 1.2 million
volunteered hotel beds in its centralized repository.

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As FAA workers test positive for coronavirus, are further airport disruptions expected?

Air traffic controllers and other workers at 10 airports and control facilities across the country have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

a large ship in a body of water: Three FAA technicians at Chicago's Midway Airport have tested positive for coronavirus, prompting the agency to close the control tower for deep cleaning.

Coronavirus cases at Chicago Midway and Las Vegas’ McCarran airports last week led control towers there to be closed and disinfected, forcing the delay or cancellation of hundreds of flights.

The FAA declined to say how many air traffic controllers and other personnel have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. But the outbreak has caused major disruptions to the nation’s airspace, and it has the potential to cause more.

In the New York region alone, FAA personnel have tested positive for COVID-19 at four facilities, including LaGuardia and JFK International airports. New York has the highest number of coronavirus cases in the country, and public health experts predict that other regions of the country could see a rapid increase in the coming weeks. 

The union that represents air traffic controllers has pleaded with state and federal officials for more widespread testing, has asked for clearer guidance on cleaning and disinfecting control tower workspaces and has even postponed its May convention in Houston.

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association union wrote its members on Sunday that “lower-traffic facilities” may need to close to ensure enough personnel are available to manage national airspace.

“It is possible, but there is not yet enough data to predict one way or another,” said John Cox, an aviation safety analyst and a retired commercial airline pilot who writes a regular Ask The Captain column for USA TODAY.

An example of a lower-traffic airport would be the one in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Cox said, whereas La Guardia would be considered high-traffic.

While commercial airlines have sharply curtailed their schedules and parked planes, air traffic controllers remain essential for keeping cargo, military, medical and law enforcement flights in the air.

Cox said the FAA is not likely to run out of personnel to manage U.S. airspace. 

“It’s not as big a problem as it could be,” he said. “If they need to, they can short staff.”

Cox said the FAA already does that at night, when there are fewer flights. He said the FAA worked around the problems in Chicago and Las Vegas.

Both airports were still able to clear a reduced number of flights for takeoff and landing. Already dealing with a steep drop in demand, many carriers simply canceled flights.

“They kind of put a makeshift system together that worked,” Cox said.

Once quarantined personnel recover or complete their 14-day isolation, he said, they’ll be able to go back to work. 

“Once the recovered people start to come back,” Cox said, “hopefully that gives us enough to keep things running.”

Last week, three FAA technicians tested positive for the coronavirus at Chicago Midway International Airport. The tower was closed for at least two days to be disinfected.

The control tower at Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport also closed last week after an air traffic controller tested positive.

Southwest Airlines, the dominant carrier at both airports, canceled hundreds of flights at both airports last week.

Other locations where controllers or workers have tested positive include the air route traffic control centers in New York and Indianapolis, and smaller airports in Peoria, Illinois; Wilmington, Delaware; and Farmingdale, New York.

“Like much of the country, the Federal Aviation Administration is experiencing an increase in COVID-19 cases at air traffic facilities and other offices across the nation,” the agency said in a statement Saturday. “Each disruption has a distinct impact on the air traffic system. This is frustrating and inconvenient, but is necessary in the interest of safety.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: As FAA workers test positive for coronavirus, are further airport disruptions expected?

WATCH: Oakland Southwest gate agent tests positive for COVID-19 (provided by ABC 7 San Francisco)

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