Hawaii ‘Hotels for Heroes’ makes changes as demand increases

HONOLULU — A Hawaii program providing free hotel rooms to health workers responding to the coronavirus has been modified after the demand exceeded the number of available rooms.

More than 870 room nights have been reserved through the Hotels for Heroes program, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Tuesday.

The overwhelming demand forced organizers to make changes including limiting workers to seven-day reservations.

“There’s been incredible demand and interest for these rooms,” said Hilton Raethel, president and CEO of the Healthcare Association of Hawaii.

Hotels for Heroes was established to use extra hotel rooms while helping financially support the visitor industry and the community.

Hotels on Kauai, Maui, Hawaii island and Oahu with approved reservations are compensated $85 per room per per night from state tourism funds. The program was developed by the Hawaii Tourism Authority, the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau and the Hawaii Lodging & Tourism Association.

The program does not accept health workers who have tested positive for COVID-19 or who have been required to quarantine.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

Hotels have been generous with their space, but organizers had to set limits after the demand “outstripped supply,” Raethel said.

“Different institutions have different needs,” Raethel said. “We are incredibly appreciative to have this opportunity for workers to have some time to themselves. We recognize this is an incredibly challenging time for the hotel industry.”

Honolulu Fire Department Battalion Chief Kevin Mokulehua said the program will help about 1,000 active department workers.

“We’ve been receiving a lot of interest in the program and have seen a steady increase since it started,” Mokulehua said.

The program should help reduce the number of first responders who have been staying in tents to isolate themselves from their families, he said.

Department members practice good hygiene and social distancing, but “there’s always this thing in your mind that I’m going home and I want to keep the family safe,” Mokulehua said.

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