Medical experts urge more use of Tokyo hotels designated for quarantine

Courtesy of a patient who recuperated at the hotel
Inside a hotel room used to quarantine coronavirus patients with milder symptoms or asymptomatic cases for their recuperation. Although patients cannot go out, they have a TV and can access the internet for free. (Part of the photo has been modified.)

Just over 17% of rooms at hotels designated as quarantine facilities in Tokyo were accommodating people infected with the novel coronavirus who show mild or no symptoms as of Wednesday. The ongoing decline in the utilization rate is apparently due to an increasing tendency for patients to opt for recuperating at home.

Medical experts are calling for more active use of these facilities, which have been set up so that beds in hospital can be used primarily for patients with more serious symptoms.

Avoiding home transmission

These hotels are managed in a way to prevent people with mild or no symptoms from transmitting the virus to those around them.

“I just wanted to stay away from my wife and son so I don’t infect them,” a 46-year-old man, who runs his own company, said in early February. “Being accommodated at a hotel is a great help.”

He had just stepped outdoors after spending eight days inside a budget hotel designated as one of the quarantine facilities in central Tokyo. His wife has a chronic illness stemming from an immune disorder, so if she were to become infected with the coronavirus, there would be a high risk of her developing serious symptoms.

With his determination to “never bring the virus home,” he had been wearing two masks during his daily routine, while refraining from dining with corporate clients. But an unexpected change in his condition came in late January.

His sense of smell weakened bit by bit. One night he went to bed feeling a chill, then found himself the next morning running a temperature of 37.9 C.

He visited his regular doctor in the evening to avoid crowds. Two days later, his PCR test results indicated he was positive for the virus. The following day, he went to a designated quarantine hotel in a car arranged by a local public health center.

No sooner had he entered the hotel room than the phone in his room rang. A staff member on the line gave him instructions on what he must do while staying there. He had to take his temperature and check his blood oxygen level with a pulse oximeter twice every day — at 7 a.m. and 4 p.m. — and submit the readings via a specially created website. He also had to answer questions from a nursing staffer over the phone regarding his health condition.

He was allowed to be outside his room three times a day — at 8 a.m., noon and 6 p.m. — to fetch meals provided in the first-floor lobby.

Cup noodles and instant coffee were also provided along with sundries such as a toothbrush and a razor, so he said he didn’t encounter any inconvenience.

He was also able to do his daily work as usual with his computer. But he felt sad every time he talked with his wife over the phone, hearing that she was having a hard time raising their infant son all by herself.

During his quarantine, the lack of exercise gave him back pains, and while he has yet to fully regain his sense of smell, he said, “I’m glad that my family was kept safe.”

Courtesy of a patient who recuperated at the hotel
A meal provided at the hotel.

Room for 3,000 patients

The Tokyo metropolitan government has been securing these quarantine hotels since last April. Only people younger than 70 with no preexisting medical conditions are eligible to recover in these accommodations.

As of early this month, there were 13 such facilities in Tokyo capable of accommodating about 3,000 people. Each facility has a nurse and a metropolitan government official is regularly on the premises.

Should anyone take a sudden turn for the worse at night, the official and other staff members will try to find a hospital to transfer the patient to.

An official who had experienced such situations said, “As hospital beds were tight, there were cases when we were unable to locate a hospital that would accept our patient until shortly before the ambulance arrived.”

As of Wednesday, the number of people being accommodated at quarantine hotels and similar facilities in Tokyo totaled 527, or a little less than 10% of the COVID-19 patients under treatment in the capital, with the utilization rate of guest rooms at these hotels standing at 17.2%. The number has fallen markedly from 1,118 on Dec. 29, the peak level since last November, when there was a surge of infections.

Although the number of newly infected patients has shifted downward, with those recuperating at home also on the decline, as many as 1,265 people were still convalescing at home as of Wednesday.

A couple in their 40s who tested positive late last year could not move into a quarantine hotel because that would mean leaving their two children alone. They instead stayed home to recuperate. By making such arrangements as having their meal times separate from their children, they managed to avoid spreading the infection.

“It would have been better if the entire family could have been accommodated at a hotel,” the husband said.

Nurses on call

The decline in the utilization rate of these designated hotels is also said to have something to do with the spread of infections among elderly people. The percentage of people infected who are age 70 and over, which stood at 11% in December, had doubled to 22% as of Wednesday.

As there has been a string of cases in which patients died during their recuperation at home, the metropolitan government decided to loan pulse oximeters to those recovering at home in addition to the delivery of food. But a senior government official said, “As the public assistance has improved, the number of people who want to recuperate at home may be increasing.”

Masataka Inoguchi, a vice chairman of the Tokyo Medical Association, said: “Nurses are regularly stationed at the hotels and facilities designated to accommodate coronavirus patients, thus they are capable of responding swiftly when a patient’s condition worsens suddenly. To prevent infections at home, we want coronavirus patients to opt for designated accommodations as much as possible.”