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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘You can only watch so much TV’: a dispatch from isolation

Jamie Reynolds spent last week in isolation at the My Place Hotel isolation facility. Although she was never suspected  (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Jamie Reynolds stayed at a Spokane Valley hotel last week, but it was hardly a vacation.

Her room was on the My Place Hotel’s third floor, which has been cordoned off by the Spokane Regional Health District staff for use as an isolation facility. It offers people who can not safely isolate – like Reynolds – a place to stay while they wait for COVID-19 test results or, if they are positive, for symptoms to subside.

Reynolds was temporarily marooned at the My Place Hotel because only one thing stood between her and a new place to live: a COVID-19 test and its results.

Reynolds, who had been homeless in Spokane since November, found a place of her own at an Oxford House in Spokane, a residence for people in recovery from addiction.

But before she could move into a communal living arrangement like the Oxford House, Reynolds had to prove she was not infected with COVID-19.

The health district’s isolation center in Spokane Valley allowed her to do just that.

Reynolds spoke with The Spokesman-Review during, and after, her time in isolation to describe her experience.

The journey into isolation began when Reynolds suffered a stroke in July and woke up in the hospital (where she also tested negative for the virus). She still has some weakness on her left side and trouble finding words, but otherwise the effects of the stroke have dissipated.

After her release from the hospital, Reynolds recovered in a respite bed at the Hope House, a shelter for women experiencing homelessness. Now nine months sober, a few friends suggested Reynolds find a place to stay at an Oxford House, which offers a clean-living environment. She was approved, but in order to protect the other residents, she had to first get a COVID-19 test.

It takes anywhere from a day to a week to get test results back, and “by then, you could have been exposed,” Reynolds was told. The only way to ensure that she avoided exposure was to isolate, which is an impossibility inside the shelter, she said.

The health district’s isolation facility has been up and running since June, paid for with funds from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.

Secured on the third floor of the My Place Hotel and cut off from all other hotel guests, the isolation facility is a key component of the health district’s efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in homeless shelters – although it is open to anyone who can’t safely isolate at home.

When a person staying at a shelter displays possible COVID-19 symptoms, they are whisked away to the hotel while they await test results.

Reynolds was never symptomatic, but still needed that clean bill of health before moving into the Oxford House.

She was tested and checked into the isolation facility. The room is free, the meals are catered and the cable television has a spate of entertainment offerings – but it didn’t take long for boredom to set in. Her advice? You better hope you brought a deck of cards.

“You can only watch so much TV before you go insane. For me, it was five minutes because it’s summer and I’d rather be outside,” Reynolds said.

As a person with autism, Reynolds said she’s accustomed to having a set routine every day, but isolation interrupted it.

“I have taken probably 50 showers just to calm my mind,” Reynolds said.

It was also difficult for Reynolds, who is in recovery, to go without the support of her community.

The first place she went after her release from the hospital in July was the Compassionate Addiction Treatment center in Spokane. But during her time in isolation, she missed out on recovery meetings.

“The biggest thing is you’re not able to have that contact. The biggest contact I have is 6 feet away from this really awesome security guard,” Reynolds said.

Even something as routine as smoking a cigarette required coordination. Reynolds had to tell staff that she was going to smoke, which required a descent down three flights of stairs, as guests of the isolation unit are not allowed to use the elevator.

“I have to decide – do I want to go smoke or struggle with the stairs? I don’t have an easy time with the stairs. But it’s not that bad,” Reynolds said. “All in all, the people are great to us.”

The hotel is an evolution from the county’s original isolation facility, erected in a spacious room at the county fairgrounds early in the pandemic. That facility, now closed, was built for a surge in cases among homeless and vulnerable people that did not materialize.

“This was a critical part of the criteria for being able to reopen the community, and it continues to be,” Susan Sjoberg, an epidemiologist with the Spokane Regional Health District, told The Spokesman-Review last month.

Later this year, the health district expects to supplement the My Place Hotel beds with a specialized isolation facility for people experiencing homelessness or with behavioral health needs at the Immaculate Heart Retreat Center. It will be operated by Catholic Charities and add another 40 to 50 isolation beds to Spokane County’s COVID-19 response.

Reynolds’ experience illustrates why health officials remain adamant that isolation facilities last through the pandemic. Now settled into her living arrangement, Reynolds said she is working to regain custody of her daughter.

“This is the safest I have felt in any home since I was 16,” Reynolds said. “It’s amazing.”