Newham is pivoting its COVID support and ditching its headline-grabbing hotel quarantine accommodation for more family-friendly options.
Cities such as New York have been offering free hotel rooms to help people with COVID-19 to self-isolate, and high-profile public health figures have praised these initiatives.
Yet Newham, which was one of the first councils in the UK to offer this as part of its comprehensive COVID support for its residents, has only had a handful of residents take up the offer since it was launched in February.
However, feedback from residents through its COVID response team shows that it’s not that accommodation support isn’t needed – it’s just that hotel rooms are not suitable for large families, which the service is trying to reach.
“We had a couple of take-ups of the hotel rooms but I think that’s due to the demographic. It’s not suitable for everyone,” said EHP Kerry Wood, who works on the Newham COVID response team. “[In a hotel] you have to be able to live in a room”.
Newham has a lot of multi-generational households, and when family members become infected with COVID it can a “big ask” to split the families up and ask them to isolate separately.
So Newham is shifting away from the hotel room model, but it will still be offering accommodation – as well as food and medical support – and is working with the local housing team to provide potential accommodation that will likely be small homes or flats. The systems are already in place to make this offering, and switching the type of accommodation used will also mean that the council will only be charged if it used.
Director of public health Jason Strelitz confirmed that only a few residents had used the hotel scheme. But he said: “We think it was a really important thing to offer. It was complicated to put in place. And I think it is a massive gap in terms of support for people in overcrowded and multigenerational homes. But it's not being taken up. I think it's a very difficult thing for one local authority to do.”
He added: “It's quite a different response, isn't it? To leave your home, the people you live with to go and isolate for 10 days… We've had quite a lot of community conversations about it. Some of it is just people feel that they don't want to leave their family. That's a big part of it.”