CA Gov. Gavin Newsom launches ‘Project Roomkey’ in light of COVID-19

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California Gov. Gavin Newsom launched “Project Roomkey,” which aims to provide hotel and motel rooms as protection from COVID-19, or the novel coronavirus, to the state’s unhoused population, at a Friday press conference.

With this project, California becomes the first state in the nation to obtain approval from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide people experiencing homelessness safe isolation from COVID-19, according to a press release. Project Roomkey aims to secure up to 15,000 rooms “as quickly as possible” and has currently moved 869 individuals “most vulnerable” to COVID-19 into isolation.

“Homeless Californians are incredibly vulnerable to COVID-19 and often have no option to self-isolate or social distance,” Newsom said in the press release. “By helping the most vulnerable homeless individuals off the street and into isolation, California can slow the spread of COVID-19 through homeless populations, lower the number of people infected and protect critical health care resources.”

The project’s isolation units will provide three critical public health services by prioritizing individuals classified as high-risk and asymptomatic and providing isolation capacity for those exposed to COVID-19 that don’t require hospitalization and for those that have tested positive for COVID-19.

Newsom also announced that state and local governments will receive up to 75% cost-reimbursement for the rooms and wraparound support services from FEMA, with essential behavioral health and health care services also being provided for local governments and community partners where needed.

According to the press release, the state will also allocate dedicated support teams to counties to help identify hotels, negotiate and execute operating agreements and provide technical assistance in record-keeping needed to receive federal reimbursement. As of press time, local governments have secured 6,867 hotel and motel rooms for Project Roomkey.

“We’re working hard with our county partners to get these hotels up and running as rapidly as possible,” Newsom said in the press release.

Hotels in counties with significant homeless populations that are also currently experiencing a high concentration of COVID-19 transmission will be targeted by Project Roomkey, according to the press release. Local governments are also responsible for identifying which shelter clients or encampment residents are selected for room placements as well as transporting them to hotels.

Every room included in Project Roomkey will include essential wraparound services such as custodial, laundry, security and support staff services, according to the press release. In partnership with chef José Andrés’ World Central Kitchen, select hotels housing individuals in the program will receive three meals per day through a statewide contract.

“These emergency protective measures will protect public health by isolating the medically vulnerable, thinning out the shelter population for social distancing, slowing the rate of spread of COVID-19 and, in turn, flattening the curve,” the press release read.

Check here for live updates on the COVID-19 situation in Berkeley.

Clara Rodas is a deputy news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @Crodas_dc.