Plans to isolate COVID-19 patients in Woodburn hotel sparks community concerns

A sign directs patients at Salud Medical Center in Woodburn on Wednesday, April 29. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

The Super 8 hotel in Woodburn will become a location for residents of Marion County who’ve tested positive for COVID-19 but have nowhere to isolate under an agreement being finalized by the county. 

Marion County Commissioner Kevin Cameron said that the contract with the hotel, located at 821 Evergreen Rd., will be finalized in the coming days and released to the public. He didn’t know the cost of the contract, which is expected to go into effect July 1, but said that its cost will be covered under the coronavirus relief package passed by Congress earlier this spring. 

However, the move has prompted concerns in Woodburn. On Monday, Woodburn City Councilor Eric Morris took to Facebook to criticize the move. He called it “irresponsible” to put COVID-19 patients across the street from apartments and a senior care facility. Morris also said that people released from prison would be housed there. 

Morris said in an interview that the county hadn’t reached out to the city council or community. He said he found out about the decision from city staff. Since posting to Facebook, he said he received a couple dozen emails.

His post received nearly 500 shares and 275 comments as of Tuesday afternoon. 

Morris said the county should put the brakes on the contract with the hotel and should look for a better location. 

“It just feels a lot more like a tell than an ask,” he said. “And that’s not how good government works.”

Cameron said that it was a “blind spot” on his part not to reach out to city leaders sooner and would clear his schedule to go to Woodburn for a community meeting. 

“We will do everything in our power to make sure that those who have some fear now will be protected as we move forward,” he said. “We will answer questions.”

Setting up the isolation location is a requirement of the phased reopening of the county. Cameron said that the hotel will be used to house people with relatively mild cases of COVID-19 and need a place to isolate to prevent further spread. He mentioned farmworkers living in employer housing, someone sharing housing with multiple roommates or family members as those who could use it. 

“Every life matters to us, and this is one of the things to protect the general population and stop the spread of the virus,” he said. 

When reached for comment, Woodburn Mayor Eric Swenson referred the Salem Reporter to a page on the city’s website answering questions. According to the page, the 81-room hotel will have an onsite nurse, project manager and security for the nine months it’ll serve as an isolation center. 

Those housed at the converted hotel will have to sign a code of conduct agreement and will be housed for up to two weeks, the page said. Food will be provided by local vendors and delivered outside patients’ doors, it said. 

Cameron said the site was selected because of its size, its proximity to agricultural operations and because the operator (who wasn’t immediately available for comment) was willing to provide staffing for the front desk and laundry services. 

He said he didn’t have the details of the code of conduct agreement patients will sign but said it will commit them to staying in their room for the duration of their isolation. The Marion County Sheriff’s Office will enforce the agreements while providing 24-7 security, he said. 

Cameron said that he spoke with Oregon Corrections Department Director Colette Peters, who told him the department has had difficulties isolating incarcerated individuals exposed to COVID-19 after being released from prison.

He said that inmates released from the Oregon State Penitentiary, the state’s only maximum-security prison, and other correctional facilities could stay at the hotel if they have nowhere else to go. 

He said that there is a risk of exposing more people to COVID-19 by releasing a person from prison to the streets who had been exposed to the virus. 

Cameron said there are five people scheduled for release in July who might need the hotel. When asked about security concerns, he said they will be kept in their rooms and will be “strictly supervised” by sheriff’s deputies. Parole and probation officers will also be at the hotel, he said. 

Cameron said that he suspects that released prisoners will be content to stay put in a hotel bed with a television and restaurant food after serving their sentence. 

Before leaving the hotel, individuals will have their symptoms monitored by a nurse for three days, according to a county press release. After that, they will be taken home. The county anticipates 10 to 15 people using the hotel initially, according to the press release. 

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Contact reporter Jake Thomas at 503-575-1251 or [email protected] or @jakethomas2009.