Ontario’s struggling hotels could be called upon to play a vital role in the fight against COVID-19

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The provincial government is in early talks with hotels to house some patients in order to free up space in hospitals to handle a potential surge in COVID-19 patients.

The focus is on the thousands of patients who are occupying hospital beds waiting for space to open up in Ontario’s long-term care homes. Though not everyone in line for a spot is in hospital, Ontario’s Financial Accountability Office expects the wait list for a long-term care bed to peak at 40,200 this year.

The province is also looking at tapping into vacant space in retirement homes.

A spokesperson for Ontario’s Minister of Health stresses that potentially housing patients waiting for long-term care at a hotel is not a simple proposal.

“We need to consider accessibility, equipment, food services, infection control and cleaning standards, bio-hazardous waste disposal and staffing, among many other issues that need to be resolved to ensure that patient safety is protected,” Travis Kann writes in a statement.

Kann tells NEWSTALK 1010 there have also been early discussions about using hotels as temporary lodging for frontline health care workers for convenience, allowing them to sleep closer to work or to help them self-isolate.

Terry Mundell, President of the CEO of the Greater Toronto Hotel Association says his is a sector in dire straits but ready to help.

“This has been a major, major hit to our industry. It’s probably, in the Toronto area, a $750-million hit. We just don’t have any business,” Mundell tells NEWSTALK 1010.

Mundell says GTA hotels that have remained open through the pandemic are running with single-digit occupancy rates.

He says talks with the government have been off and on for a few weeks.

“We’re really waiting to hear more from them on where and what the need is, and then we will do our best to do our part as we know we have an opportunity to help the system, the people of Ontario.”

Mundell says there haven’t been any discussions around the financial implications of using hotels to support hospitals and health care workers, but stresses the industry is out to lend a hand, not take advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic.