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I Spent 4 Nights in a Covid Isolation Hotel

Lida Darmian, fully vaccinated and boosted, tested positive for COVID right at the beginning of the Omicron wave in New York City. Darmian had heard about the NYC Take Care program, which offers anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 the resources to quarantine in a hotel, free of charge. With three roommates, Darmian had a couple of options for protecting those around her: She could stay in a hotel on her own accord, but she feared exposing more people there, or she could head to a Take Care hotel. On December 17, 2021, she embarked on her four-night stay.  

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

“A car is coming for you. Be ready.”

After I got my positive results, I holed up in my bedroom and was kinda like, “Well, I guess I’ll just stay here?” But after some back and forth texts with my three roommates—and I had like just moved in with them, so this was a lovely start—it seemed like the best option was the  COVID hotel. So, around 5:30 p.m., I called the Take Care hotline to just find out for more info. And it was…very difficult to actually speak to someone. The phone system was not working. I’d press a number, it wouldn’t take me anywhere. Transfer me, transfer me, transfer me. And then, finally I was talking to a woman who, before I knew it was like, “A car is coming for you. You’ll get a call before 10 p.m. tonight or as early as 8 a.m. tomorrow morning. Be ready. We’ll call three times and if no answer, we leave.” I was like, OK, vague time window, but I sped into overdrive to pack…for a place I did not know exactly where I was going. 

Hope for a retreat, pack for an isolation hotel

There were no limits on how much you could bring. The only thing the woman on the hotline specifically told me to take was “soft clothes,” which honestly made me think, “OK, this is a retreat. Fun.” I packed four books, because I was going to read every day, change my life. I also brought a bunch of surgical and KN95 masks, sundries like Cup Noodles, Emergen-C and Trader Joe’s lentil packets. 

Eloise at the Isolation Hotel

This is also when I started “vlogging,” if you will, for my Instagram stories, and I was getting tons of engagement. People were so intrigued, and in retrospect, it also helped me process what was happening in real time. I think we were all thinking like, “Omg, you’re gonna live at a hotel? You are Eloise at the Plaza!” I shared that I was also going to bring whisky and wine—ya know, just so I had options—but then a friend who had stayed at one of the hotels a year earlier reached out to tell me that they search your belongings and confiscate glass. (Shrug.) “Also,” she told me, “There are no locks on the doors, and someone walked in on me fully naked.”

The locks

Once I was dropped off at the hotel—a Holiday Inn near an airport—I filled out some basic in-take forms, like the date I tested positive (this informed how long my stay would be—four nights—until I was cleared), and was then led to my room, which I first thought, “Great, this is fine.” But just as my friend had warned, there were no locks. But what made it scarier was that they had been fully removed as in, holes where the deadbolts had been. And they even stopped the lock from working on the bathroom door. I understood on some level on why you’d want access to people, in case of medical emergency, but it made me feel uneasy from the start. When I shared this on my Instagram, people—especially my women and non-binary friends—were like, build a barricade! So I concocted a shoddy barricade by the door that didn’t really do anything. 

The knocks

There were also the knocks ‘round the clock: wellness checks, three meal deliveries and a nurse check. Now, I really expected more of a hospital care-type monitoring situation, but there was not medical care, which for me was…shocking. There is staff and a nurse, but they’re really just like, “How ya feeling?” There is no testing. They just took my temperature and asked me every time if I had my own pulse oximeter, which, uh…what? I was like, “Should I have brought one?” If you missed the knocks, you missed your food or you risked someone walking in on you fully naked in the shower.

The food

The two things people following along on Instagram were most interested in were the locks and the food, so I’d “unbox” my meals for my stories, which was kinda fun. The food was akin to airplane food, which I have a weird nostalgia for. But each day, the excitement over the meals became less and less, but I also don’t believe in complaining about a service that is free. In fact, you can tell them if you’re vegan, low sugar, etc. You can also opt to order food once a week. So I wound up placing a big order and parsing it out for multiple meals. I paid for this on my own, but they do actually offer financial help for this if you need it.

The freak out

It did get to a point in my stay that I was freaking out. You can hear everything in the halls. There are checks at like, 1:30 a.m. The locks and the inconsistency of the knocks made it so I couldn’t really sleep, and I was scared to shower because if you miss a knock, you could miss your food. I was also frightened someone could just barge in. I was just like, don’t feel comfortable here, and I wasn’t exactly feeling safe, but I didn’t feel like my roommates were ready to take me back until I got a negative COVID test, which, spoiler alert, was not going to happen because no tests were happening. I also could have left to quarantine at a hotel on my own accord—and some very, very kind friends reached out offering me to stay at their places—but it didn’t feel right to put people in danger. I was really torn, thinking if I give up am I endangering everyone around me?

Harbinger of Secrets

I was really, really upset because I equated being good with not catching COVID. These whole two and half years I have tried to be so good, testing and masking, and yet I’ve found myself at this place that I don’t feel safe, but I also don’t feel safe going home. But that was the bright side of sharing my experience on social media. I was feeling so alone, but so many responses to my stories were like, “OMG, I also have COVID!” I felt like a harbinger of secrets—remember, this was like the very beginning of the Omicron wave, and there was still so much shame around catching the virus. People were thanking me for sharing my story, which helped me get through the four days. And I guess on some level, I was doing what I would want someone else to do: Offer to isolate for the benefit of others.

Checking out

Finally, a couple days before Christmas, I returned to my apartment. I had checked into the isolation hotel on day six of when I tested positive and completed my ten-day quarantine. So, I was a little bitter because maybe two or three days after I left, the CDC announced a shortened isolation time of five days. Was it the retreat I packed for? Absolutely not. But it’s a very real option to recover from COVID without putting those around you at risk. In fact, I still have friends going to hotels now, and they do seem to be faring well. And because you’re probably wondering, no, I didn't read any of the books I brought, but I did buy my own pulse oximeter. It's pink.

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