Carefully planned meals, a television in the room and free WiFi, but no alcohol or visitors allowed. Biénne Huisman steps inside one of the Western Cape’s quarantine and isolation hotels.
In the Western Cape, 4 842 quarantine and isolation beds are available at 44 hospitals, hotels, converted office blocks and other facilities around the province.
Of these, 1 037 beds are occupied, leaving 3 805 available to the public.
During a visit to the Protea Hotel in Durbanville, provincial Health MEC Nomafrench Mbombo says: “We have had underutilisation of these facilities, so we want to encourage people to use them.”
On a hill in Cape Town’s northern fringes, the hotel is serving as a quarantine and isolation site.
“Isolation is when a person with confirmed Covid-19 is separated from other people to avoid infecting them,” explains Natalie Watlington, the spokesperson for the provincial health department.
“Quarantine is when a person who does not have Covid-19, but had close contact with someone who has it, is separated from others. Someone who is waiting for their test results is also required to be in quarantine.”
At the time of the visit, the hotel had 27 isolation patients and 37 quarantine patients, with signs on room doors indicating whether they are in quarantine or in isolation, plus their dietary requirements.
The hotel opened as a Covid-19 quarantine and isolation facility on April 27.
A new normal
“At the beginning, it was weird,” says the hotel’s general manager, Patrick Fortuin, speaking from behind a mask. “But with all the safety protocols, it has become the norm.”
Within this new normal, four kitchen staff are on duty per shift, preparing meals for the patients. Discussing the menu in the hotel’s foyer, executive chef Reuben Barnes-Rossouw says: “We do nutritional dinners, for example, stews or grilled fish and veggies. For lunch, hot dogs, hamburgers, and so on. We cater for vegetarians, gluten intolerant and halal patients.”
How are the menus at the various facilities compiled?
“This will vary at each facility,” says Watlington. “But it is planned according to strict guidelines and dietary requirements.”
Fortuin showed Spotlight into one of the rooms. Spacious and modern with crisp white linen-covered twin beds and print wallpaper, it had an en-suite bathroom and a large balcony overlooking the leafy premises.
The hotel’s corridors smell of sanitiser. The rooms of patients in isolation are cleaned and sanitised only once they check out.
If linen or towels need to be laundered during their stay, these items are put in a black bag and deposited outside the room’s door for staff to collect.
The rooms are not shared unless married couples and mothers or caregivers with children need them.
For entertainment, patients have televisions in their rooms and free WiFi. No alcohol is allowed.
Patients may not leave their rooms and visitors are not permitted.
Two nurses on duty
At the hotel – under supervision of site manager Rory Simpson, a professional physiotherapist appointed by the provincial health department – there are two nurses on duty per shift.
“We check in on the patients daily,” says Simpson. “We do morning checks telephonically. Each patient receives a thermometer, so they give us their temperature. If there is a problem, a nurse will dress in personal protective equipment and go inside. If it’s serious, the patient will be referred to the Karl Bremer Hospital.”
Western Cape transport and public works spokesperson Ntomboxolo Makoba-Somdaka says that, on Monday, the City of Cape Town had a total of 2 276 quarantine and isolation beds available in 17 facilities, of which 631 were occupied.
In the Winelands, a total of 898 beds are available in 10 facilities, of which 187 are occupied.
Along the Garden Route, there are 700 beds available in three facilities, of which 60 are occupied.
In the Overberg, 307 beds are available in seven facilities, of which 139 are occupied. And on the west coast, 624 beds are available in seven facilities, of which 15 are occupied.
Makoba-Somdaka adds that private facilities are costing the public on average R770 per bed per night, while government-owned facilities cost R350 a night.
Spotlight earlier spoke to Nosisi Jacobs, who was in isolation in a quarantine facility in Lagoon beach.
Another Cape Town resident Spotlight spoke to who tested positive for Covid-19 and had since recovered, Claudia Manuel, had declined the quarantine and isolation facility option.
“I wasn’t comfortable to staying in a government facility. What government usually says on television and what actually happens is often different. One hears all these bad stories about government hospitals and clinics, so it puts one off,” Manuel says.
During a recent press briefing by the Western Cape government, senior manager of asset management in the department of transport and public works, Shane Hindley, noted various barriers to the uptake of the quarantine and isolation facilities.
Hindley says 78% of beds in these facilities are still available.
Some reasons cited during interviews with residents are concerns ranging from can they smoke, have sex and bring their own food, to whether they can leave and come back again.
Then there are issues related to the stigma surrounding Covid-19. Hindley said this high rejection rate will require a “whole of society approach”.
Hindley said transport from people’s homes to the facilities are provided by the Red Dot taxi service, which includes a fleet of 150 vehicles from the local minibus taxi industry.
The vehicles are each fitted with a protective screen and tracker.
Only seven passengers and one driver is allowed per vehicle. The Red Dot service also transports healthcare workers to and from work.
Reflecting on the slow uptake, Mbombo says one must understand that it’s “quite daunting for a person to leave their family behind, and you can understand these issues of separation also from the point of view of accessing niceties and goodies they have at home. So we shouldn’t dismiss their truth.”
Mbombo noted that the department was engaging with communities and showcasing what they had been doing behind the scenes.
This includes a concerted effort to include recovered patients’ experiences of quarantine and isolation facilities.
Watlington also explained the impact of the perceptions around state facilities that may prevent people from using them for quarantine and isolation.
“The uncertainty regarding what to expect may prevent people from being keen to make use of the quarantine and isolation facilities,” says Watlington.
“To this end, we are sharing stories from patients who have successfully completed their journey in isolation – their positive experiences.”
She adds that the uptake is increasing daily.
“If you live in the Cape metro and you have tested positive for coronavirus, you need to isolate,” she says.
“And if you have symptoms or have come into close contact with someone who has coronavirus, you need to quarantine, even if you have not been tested. So the Western Cape government can help you with free, comfortable and safe alternative accommodation. We will provide transport, meals and a laundry service.”
For more information, visit the website https://www.westerncape.gov.za/general-publication/covid-19-quarantine-and-isolation-facilities-faqs
This article was produced by Spotlight – health journalism in the public interest.