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Hillsborough to open quarantine, isolation site for coronavirus patients

Now there’s a place for those infected or exposed to COVID-19 to go so that they don’t infect vulnerable family members at home.

TAMPA — Hillsborough County has created the bay area’s first quarantine and isolation facility using two motels near the University of South Florida, officials announced Wednesday. Now those who have been infected or exposed to the coronavirus will have a place to stay without endangering family members at home.

The announcement was made hours after Florida’s governor issued an executive “safer-at-home” order for the entire state, where the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19, the deadly respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus, passed 7,000 on Wednesday.

Related: Florida curve still steep as deaths pass 100 and coronavirus cases rise by more than a thousand

Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill signed 6-month renewable leases for these neighboring motels: the Quality Inn & Conference Center at 2701 E Fowler Ave. and the adjacent West Wing Hotel at 2501 E Fowler Ave. The sites opens at 10 a.m. Thursday.

Together, they can provide 362 rooms for people who have tested positive for the coronavirus to isolate, or for those who have been asked to quarantine after being exposed to the virus. There will also be room for the spouses and children of those required to isolate, the county said. For example, if a single mother were to become infected, her children could get their own room.

Hillsborough County Office of Emergency Management Director Tim Dudley said the rooms are intended for people who have elderly or medically vulnerable family members at home, who would be at greater risk should they too become infected The plan mirrors efforts in Pinellas County, where officials were finalizing an agreement to lease a stand-alone wing of a Clearwater hotel to quarantine 50 homeless people should they contract the coronavirus.

“The sites will help prevent further spread of the virus by providing shelter, food, telemedicine options, and basic services such as laundry and sanitation for residents who are able to care for themselves but unable to stay in their own home,” Hillsborough officials said in a statement.

Related: What does Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ safer at home order mean?

Employees with the county’s branch of the Florida Department of Health will oversee the facility, officials said, and operating the public-private venture will save 111 jobs for Hillsborough County residents.

The facility isn’t open to everyone, however. Hillsborough health officials will only admit county residents who have been pre-screened by staff. The motels will remain open as long as they need too, officials said.

Related: Tampa Bay leaders unsure what DeSantis’ order means for local residents

When the day comes that the county no longer needs a quarantine and isolation facility, both hotels will undergo a medical-grade cleansing before being turned back over to the owners, the county said.

“Hillsborough County extends its deep gratitude to both hotels for their willingness to serve as community partners and provide valuable shelter and services to those affected by the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic,” the statement said.

By Wednesday evening, Hillsborough County had 309 of the positive COVID-19 patients discovered in the state. Their ages range from 93 to infancy. Three people have already died from the virus within county lines, and on Wednesday evening 56 others were being treated in area hospitals.

Those numbers are expected to keep climbing, which is they the county announced earlier this week that the nearby Yuengling Center on USF’s campus has been tapped as a site to tend to 250 more patients if local hospitals become overloaded.

Related: Hillsborough strikes deal for hotel beds, Yuengling Center to house coronavirus patients

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