Philly’s coronavirus response

Fire forces evacuation of COVID-positive residents, new Philly quarantine hotel opens Monday

There’s now a “repair or demolish” order on the Rodeway Inn, which is in a historic Center City property.

Firefighters were able to bring the Nov. 19 fire at 1208 Walnut St. under contraol

Firefighters were able to bring the Nov. 19 fire at 1208 Walnut St. under contraol

Twitter / @PhilaFireDept
BALA CYNWYD, PA - JAN 12, 2019:  Courtenay Harris Bond and her husband Jeffery Bond stand in their renovated kitchen after a tree on their property fell on their home. "CREDIT: Will Figg for The Wall Street Journal"

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The fire that broke out last week in the building serving as Philly’s isolation and quarantine site caused enough damage that all residents are being permanently transferred to a new hotel, city officials confirmed.

Around two dozen COVID-positive Philadelphians with nowhere else to stay were evacuated Thursday evening from the Rodeway Inn at 1208 Walnut St. as firefighters battled the blaze.

It was caused by smoking, according to city spokesperson Mike Dunn, which was prohibited on the premises. Residents who smoked were offered nicotine gum or patches to help them refrain from smoking while quarantining, staff there previously told Billy Penn.

After the fire, inspectors from the Department of Licenses and Inspections concluded the Washington Square West property was unsafe “due to fire and water damage to walls, doors, and windows.” The fire alarm system must also be tested and recertified before the building can be reoccupied.

One of the city’s nearby COVID prevention sites had enough room for the evacuated residents, Dunn said.

In contrast to the quarantine site, the prevention sites are intended for people trying to avoid exposure to the coronavirus, not those who’ve already tested positive, so the group — mostly people from congregate settings like nursing homes or shelters — is now in the process of being moved into a new facility.

That new facility will become the city’s quarantine hotel, per Dunn, and will formally open Monday for referrals.

Officials would not specify details about the new quarantine hotel, other than it is located in Center City and was already under contract because of the current surge in positive cases. The first quarantine site cost the city an estimated $8.2 million from March through November, according to Health Department spokesperson James Garrow.

Meanwhile, an L&I “repair or demolish” violation notice now sits on the door of the Rodeway Inn. Because the building has been designated historic, it cannot be demolished without the Philadelphia Historical Commission’s approval, city officials said.

According to Paul Steinke of the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia, the fire was contained to a single unit in the hotel, and the unsafe designation refers to that unit only. “There is zero risk that the building will have to be demolished,” Steinke said.

The owner of 1208 Walnut St., listed in city records as Millennium Hotel Group, did not respond to a request for comment.

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