Hotels offered to Kansas residents isolating due to virus


LAWRENCE, Kan. — Kansas residents who need a place to isolate themselves after being exposed to or testing positive for COVID-19 may be able to stay for free in a hotel rented out by the state with help from the federal government.

The goal of the program is to provide people who have no other place to stay with an option, so they don’t spread the virus, said Devan Tucking-Strickler of the Kansas Division of Emergency Management in Topeka. The state is operating hotels in the Kansas City area as well as in Liberal, Dodge City, Salina, Emporia and Lawrence.

Tucking-Strickler told The Kansas City Star she didn’t know how much the state has spent so far on the rooms but that renting out an entire hotel costs roughly $3,000 a day at each site. The Federal Emergency Management Agency helps pay for the rooms.

Since the program began in April, about 40 to 50 people a week have typically used the rooms statewide, but lately the occupancy rate has doubled.

“Every time I think we’ve had a peak it blows my mind again. I think right now we’re headed up again, from what I’m looking at,” said Tucking-Strickler. “A few weeks ago, we started going a decent amount over 100 individuals. And today, we’re just bordering 100 and going up, whereas we were 40s and 50s a week ago.”

Officials emphasize that the program isn’t offering people a free vacation.

“I had to be really explicit with folks, this is not just a hotel night,” said Jill Jolicoeur, assistant to the Douglas County administrator in Lawrence.

The state relies on local hospitals, health departments and community organizations to let people know the rooms are available. The rooms have been used by meatpacking workers, prison guards, health care workers, people who live with at-risk family members and people who don’t have homes.

The state pays for three meals a day, snacks and a laundry service for people staying in the hotels. The rooms are sanitized after someone leaves