Covid-19 Quarantine Facility: Questions and Answers

This article concerns the State & Federal effort to quarantine individuals testing positive for Covid-19 in a San Carlos hotel. It’s likely to be an evolving situation so I expect to be updating this article more often than I usually do.

New questions or questions with significant updates are marked with an asterisk.

On March 10, 2020 the State of California notified the city that the Federal government would be opening a quarantine/monitoring facility in a hotel located in San Carlos (aka an “Alternate Care Facility”). While a Federal effort it will be operated in conjunction with the State and its public health agency and with the active local involvement of San Mateo County’s Public Health Department. The city will play only an indirect role.

I encourage you to check the various public agency websites for more information and for the latest official material. Here are some links that you may find helpful (as of 3/11/2020; these are drawn from the City of San Carlos site — you’ll find a hot link at the top of every city webpage offering to take you to a page showing these kinds of links):

I am writing this article to try and address questions that residents send me via email or which I see raised in social media. The information for my answers comes from briefings I received, inquiries I’ve made and press conferences I’ve attended.

Why San Carlos?

There is a need to set up sites throughout the entire state. San Carlos is close to several major airports which was considered important for enabling the individuals to get home once they test negative for the virus twice, separated by a 24 hour period.

Why did the city agree to this?

While all levels of government are involved in protecting public health, the primary responsibility for doing so rests at the State and Federal level (in California, at least, the state effort also involves county government). The decision to open the facility was made at a governmental level above San Carlos and the County. We were not asked.

Who will be living in the hotel?

According to California’s Office of Emergency Services each person going to San Carlos will be screened by medical professionals and only have mild symptoms.

As of March 11, 2020 none of the individuals being moved to San Carlos are known to have contracted COVID-19. However, they will all be tested.

If an individual requires hospitalization the State will provide dedicated emergency transportation of patients to hospitals. Local 9-1-1 will not be used.

How sick is someone who tests positive?

One of the state’s chief physicians stated at the recent press conference that about 80% of people who test positive for COVID-19 show either no or only mild symptoms. The disease can be more serious for others, particularly people with certain medical conditions (e.g., diabetes, heart conditions, other respiratory illnesses).

Why aren’t these people staying on a military base?

The Department of Defense does not allow civilians who show signs of illness, test positive, or require hospitalization to stay on base. The base facilities in this case are essentially first-level quarantine facilities (i.e., places where people wait, in some degree of isolation, to see if any illness develops).

Why not send them to a hospital for observation?

Given the ability of COVID-19 to spread rapidly putting everyone who tested positive in a hospital — particularly when 80% show mild or no symptoms due to the disease — would exhaust California’s hospital capacity. This would place people who really need hospitalization in jeopardy.

How long will be people be staying in the hotel?

The people will stay in the facility at least 14 days in the facility and until they test negative for COVID-19.

Testing negative (i.e., showing no sign of an active COVID-19 infection) on two sequential tests separated by 24 hours will qualify someone to leave quarantine and be transported home by State officials.

How many people will be in the facility?

The hotel apparently has about 120 rooms so I presume the maximum number of people that might be there is 240 (120 couples). The exact number of individuals coming to the facility has not yet been determined (and will likely fluctuate).

Who will be caring for the individuals and operating the hotel? Will hotel staff be involved?

Federal officials will be operating the site and supplying all resources and personnel, including security and medical services.

The quarantine will be enforced 24/7 by the U.S. Marshals service. A federal medical team will be on site providing treatment to patients.

No hotel staff will be involved.

What steps are being taken to protect the San Carlos community?

There will be no interaction between the quarantined individuals and the community/general public, as they will not be permitted to leave the secured site.

Only the special team of Federal care workers will enter and exit the site. They will be following all Federal Center for Disease Control protocols which include:

  • All personnel will follow proper sanitation practices including hand washing and social distancing to minimize cross contamination.
  • All activities will be coordinated with Emergency Medical Services Authority (EMSA) to facilitate safe and secure transportation, housing and management of individuals.
  • Following Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines for use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) during all times of patient contact. PPE includes but is not limited to gowns, gloves, goggles, respirators etc.
  • Conducting proper disinfection procedures and following recommended procedures for disposal of waste.
  • Providing ambulance transport for persons in need of hospitalization.
  • Enforcing fixed temporary fences around perimeter.
  • Having U.S. Marshall service onsite to enforce security and quarantine.

What happens to the hotel staff during this time?

Federal officials have stated hotel staff will be compensated for their loss of employment.

*Why not set up the facility in a more isolated area?

According to California public health officials a number of locations were considered before the final location was chosen (Fairfield Inn).

Some of these were in other, less populated parts of the county. However, logistics were an important consideration (they wanted to open the facility quickly). Proximity to hospitals (for people who might need hospitalization) and airports (so people who passed quarantine could leave the area quickly) were also factors.

7 thoughts on “Covid-19 Quarantine Facility: Questions and Answers”

  1. Follow up question: Will the Federal Marshall’s and medical staff at the hotel be allowed to come into our community? If so doesn’t that place all of us at an increased level of risk? Perhaps we should we avoid going downtown now.

  2. Mark Olbert

    A good question, Hans. I don’t know the specific answer. But consider this. These are highly-trained professionals, with access to the best gear available…who also have a very strong desire to keep themselves and their families and friends from getting sick. For me, that’s enough not to worry about interacting with them. I’d be more concerned about interacting with a random friend on the street (and I’m not too concerned, at this point, about that). In fact, I’d like to thank these public servants, personally, for all that they’re doing. But your mileage may differ.

  3. Why San Carlos ? Why not a remote location a few miles up in the Mountains or by the beach area ? Sure it adds 30 minutes to the airport but overall impact is far less ?

  4. Mark Olbert

    A reasonable question, Pete. I suspect it’s because they do want straightforward access to services (to support the Federal team) and hospitals (in case individuals progress to needing more care).

    BTW, when you leave comments please enter your real email address. It doesn’t get published, but missing or spurious ones can lead to your comment not being published.

  5. Mark, thank you as always. Appreciate you taking the time to address these issues. All hands on deck! Be safe, my friend. We will get through this.

  6. It turned ou to be the Fairfield inn next to Hiller aviation museum.

    There are ZERO San Carlos residents live in that tiny part of san carlos, but there are 15,000 or more people from redwood shores live right next to it, who were not notified, or get the hint from news as it is all about san carlos

  7. Mark Olbert

    Hi Ann, you’re right of course as to the population distribution. I can’t answer why Redwood Shores/Redwood City was not notified about the facility being opened. Please remember that San Carlos wasn’t notified either — we were simply told it would be opening under Federal mandate. I agree we didn’t stop to think “wait — shouldn’t someone tell Redwood City?” But in our defense we were scrambling and playing catch up with a situation which dropped into our lap unexpectedly.

    I encourage you to contact the County Manager’s office and ask that they consider notifying all the neighboring communities if and when similar mandates appear from the State or Federal level.

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