Workers worried after COVID-19 outbreak leads to partial shutdown of GTA quarantine hotel
Hampton Inn & Suites is the 3rd federally authorized hotel to have outbreak since start of May
A union says employees at quarantine hotels are worried now that public health officials have ordered the partial closure of a hotel near Pearson Airport due to a COVID-19 outbreak.
Melissa Sobers, a researcher with Unite Here Local 75, says news of the outbreak at the Hampton Inn & Suites by Hilton Toronto Airport on 3279 Caroga Dr. in Mississauga is "nerve-wracking" for workers at quarantine hotels. It is the third outbreak at one of the federally authorized hotels since the start of May.
The union, which says it represents 25,000 workers across Canada in the hospitality industry, has been lobbying the federal and provincial governments to test quarantine hotel employees for COVID-19 on site.
"We have heard from some workers, just generally, because of their age, or because of their family situation, they are concerned about going to work," Sobers said on Tuesday.
Sobers said quarantine hotel workers are "the first line of defence" when it comes to a COVID-19 outbreak but the union is trying to provide them with support.
In late February, the federal government implemented new quarantine measures at airports that require all air travellers returning from non-essential trips abroad to isolate in federally-designated facilities for up to 72 hours while they await the results of a PCR test for COVID-19. The fine for refusing to go to a hotel is $3,000.
Peel Public Health ordered the Hampton Inn & Suites to close partially on May 8. The public health unit has declined to say how many cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed at the hotel.
But it says a closure, whether full or partial, happens when five or more people test positive for the novel coronavirus within the span of 14 days. The closure comes under Section 22 of Ontario's Health Protection and Promotion Act.
Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada did not respond to requests for comment.
Sobers said employees at quarantine hotels are being provided with personal protective equipment and getting their temperatures checked daily.
"We've been reaching out to the provincial government in the hopes that these pop-up vaccination clinics would be more available on site for our hotel workers, particularly those in these quarantine hotels," she said.
But she added: "From the airport to the hotel, they are the first folks that these travellers see."
On May 4, Toronto Public Health (TPH) reported a COVID-19 outbreak at the Crowne Plaza Toronto Airport Hotel and said there were 13 confirmed cases among staff members there. The hotel, however, has not been shut down either partially or fully.
According to TPH, there was a COVID-19 outbreak at another quarantine hotel, the Holiday Inn Toronto International Airport, that began on May 3 but it was declared over on May 4. There were seven cases there. That hotel was not closed partially or fully either.
For John Fackoury, who stayed at the Crowne Plaza in April, a COVID-19 outbreak at one of these hotels is not surprising. He has travelled three times during the pandemic.
"I was surprised it didn't happen sooner," he said.
Fackoury said he doesn't think the latest outbreak is going to be the last at one of these hotels. Last month, on his way back from a trip to the United Kingdom to see his seven-year-old son, he stayed at the Crowne Plaza for about a week before there was an outbreak there.
"No, I didn't feel safe, and I did debate leaving."
He said he realized something was not right not long after getting a COVID-19 test at the airport. He was then told to get on a shuttle to the hotel.
"I've got flights from all over the world. They're hopping on a shuttle with me. You're just really increasing the number. You're not keeping people in the bubble of the plane they were on," he said.
Fackoury said it was even worse when he arrived at the hotel.
"I expected to shoot up straight to my room and wait for the test to come back, and instead, you've got to wait two or three hours in a lobby, and mingle with a bunch of other people while you're waiting for your room."
Federal government authorized 19 quarantine hotels
Luggage was lined up around the lobby. While people were ushered into waiting rooms with dozens of other guests, many also talked to hotel staff, Fackoury said.
He said he didn't think it was safe for hotel staff either. "I'm not sure all of them realized it," he said.
The Public Health Agency of Canada manages federal quarantine hotels for travellers entering Canada from abroad.
There are 19 hotels near Toronto's Pearson International Airport on the federal list of government-authorized hotels that provide a "mandatory hotel stopover" for travellers. The Hampton Inn & Suites is no longer on the list.
With files from Greg Ross, Muriel Draaisma