Marion County has spent more than $1 million on a hotel for Covid respite. Most of its rooms have sat empty

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

Marion County is spending $7,328 per day on a motel program for people who have tested positive or been exposed to Covid but have nowhere to isolate. There are currently two guests using the rooms.

In July, Marion County entered into a room block agreement with the Super 8 hotel in Woodburn to set aside 81 rooms through March 31, 2021 to provide a place for people who contract Covid and have shared living situations or individuals leaving prison with nowhere else to go. The county pays for the rooms even if no one is using them.

Setting up the isolation location was a requirement of the governor’s phased reopening plan for the county.

Since July, a total of 69 people suffering from Covid have used the program.

Marion County has seen a surge in case counts since late October, recording 784 cases in the past week. That accounts for more than 10% of cases since the pandemic began.

On Tuesday Nov. 17, four people were hospitalized and three died.

According to a county FAQ released in July, the county anticipated 10 to 15 people using the hotel initially but never expected it to be fully booked.

“We do not expect to use the hotel’s 81-room capacity. Potential outbreaks could lead to increases in these estimates; however, this is difficult to predict,” it read.

The program immediately drew criticism from the Woodburn mayor in June, who called it “irresponsible” to put Covid patients across the street from apartments and a senior care facility.

Through mid-September and October, the Red Cross used the hotel to house wildfire evacuees.

During that time, 17 Marion County residents who needed to isolate were placed at a hotel in Yamhill County.  

Jolene Kelley, county spokeswoman, said the Red Cross is going to reimburse the county for the time it used the hotel.

She said the average length of stay for Covid patients has been eight days.

The county is paying for the program with money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s public assistance Covid grant.

The county’s contract with the motel, which ends on March 31, 2021, is not to exceed $2.1 million. There’s also a contract with the Marion County Sheriff’s Office to patrol the motel that’s not to exceed $550,000 and a contact with Advanced Security not to exceed $75,000.  

Clarification: The hotel program is not just for those who have tested positive, but also those who have been exposed to Covid.

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Have a tip? Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250, [email protected] or @daisysaphara.