ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. (KMOV.com) -- St. Louis County rented out an entire hotel during the coronavirus pandemic, but now, some local leaders are questioning whether it was a waste of tax dollars.
“It is a lot of money and it’s a lot of responsibility and it's all of our money,” said Republican St. Louis County Councilman Mark Harder. Harder said he has concerns about the county’s decision to rent out this entire hotel in Maryland Heights for the last three months.
It was intended as a place for first responders exposed to COVID-19 to quarantine. That part, Harder said, was good idea.
“I don’t begrudge them that, I just think the way it was managed could have been scrutinized,” he said.
But he questions if there were better options at the county's disposal.
News 4 obtained the contract with the Hawthorne Suites.
The county agreed to pay a monthly cost of $337,000 and the hotel’s payroll on top of it, which amounted to another $31,000 per month.
Harder says the total cost so far is more than $1 million.
The trouble, he said, is that the hotel has stayed mostly empty.
A county spokesperson said 65 people have stayed in the hotel, although, according to a document obtained by News 4, some of the people stayed for just a few days at a time.
And while it was intended for first responders, most overnight stays were civilians.
“I think anybody could have looked at that and said, 'We don’t need all that capacity, lets figure something out,'” Harder said.
But some defend the county’s quick thinking and preparedness. A local union for firefighters and EMT’s told news 4 they are grateful that the County Executive made preparations for a potential worst-case scenario.
Their statement read, in part:
“The fact that the hotel was not used to its capacity is a reflection of the success of our collective pandemic response efforts. Had we filled the hotel up with sick first responders, we would have undoubtedly had members die from the virus which would have been a true tragedy.”
Harder wondered if perhaps the county could have provided vouchers for first responders to stay in hotels to quarantine, as the city did.
He said that would have cost the county just $40,000 instead of over $1 million.
The St. Louis County health director's office sent a statement to News 4, saying:
“The state asked us to help identify an isolation/quarantine hotel before we even had our first coronavirus case and indicated that they would assist us as it moved forward. The majority of the people who have stayed at the hotel have been COVID-positive, unhoused individuals and some first responders. The hotel recently has been available to the general public who may need a safe place to isolate to avoid potentially infecting family members.
The primary purpose in blocking out the rooms was to minimize all potential spread of the virus to the general public.
Again, this was preparatory, but the unhoused in particular have no other place to isolate or quarantine for multiple days without causing a major outbreak. Because of the COVID patients, the facility undergoes additional cleaning and care protocols that are above and beyond traditional hotel services.”