In response to the coronavirus pandemic, Harford County government and Welcome One Emergency Shelter have placed some first responders and vulnerable homeless people in Aberdeen hotels to shield them from the virus or wait out a possible infection.
On April 1, the county rented one floor of the Home2 Suites by Hilton in Aberdeen for first responders who may have had close contact with a possibly infected person, director of the Office of Governmental and Community Relations Cindy Mumby said. There are 24 rooms on the floor.
“If you are a first responder and you were exposed to a potential COVID patient, you are given the option to use the hotel and quarantine until testing comes back,” she said.
First responders with positive tests are also welcomed to wait out the illness in the hotel, Mumby said. It has been used, she said, and costs the county $31,500 to rent, which qualifies as a coronavirus-related expense for the purpose of federal relief reimbursement.
Beyond first responders, the county has also put homeless people in hotels since April 2. The county offered the hotels to five people who were either seniors or at-risk. It paid for four rooms as of last week, Mumby said.
People who have tested positive, recovered and would have been discharged into homelessness can also stay at the hotel, Mumby said, though nobody had as of last week. The point is to give the newly recovered time to self-isolate to prevent the disease’s spread.
Those homeless people who moved to hotels were taking staying at Welcome One Emergency Shelter in Belcamp, Mumby said. And Welcome One, the shelter’s executive director Liz Tutino said, has put 26 more people in hotels while it is closed.
The fear was rapid transmission between residents and an inability to follow the governor’s orders. The center maintains six beds for women and 27 for men, Tutino said.
“We were concerned that we were not able to follow most of the mandates,” she said. “If one person were to contract the virus, it would put everyone else at risk.”
Welcome One moved 26 residents to motels in the Aberdeen area, Tutino said, though she could not specify which lodgings. The plan to place residents in temporary lodgings began to foment when the virus threatened Harford County in early March.
Breaking News Alerts Newsletter
As it happens
Get updates on the coronavirus pandemic and other news as it happens with our free breaking news email alerts.
"We started working on this as soon as we found out that there was a case in Harford County,” Tutino said. “Most of our population do have underlying health concerns” and are otherwise vulnerable.
Last year, the shelter served 159 different people, she said, and while the solution is not ideal, Tutino praised the community for supporting those in need. Since March, she said the shelter has received about $6,200 in donations.
“We have had a lot of people donate online or drop off food for us,” she said. “We are just really grateful for the support the community gives."
The shelter had to secure private funding to move its residents elsewhere, she said, but the hope is that phase two of Gov. Larry Hogan’s relief plan will be in effect by the end of May. Past May 11, the shelter will be renewing the rooms weekly.
“Every time we get new information, we are changing our plan,” she said.