OC retirement community residents in uproar over plan to house homeless COVID-19 patients near them

LAGUNA WOODS, Calif. (KABC) -- An Orange County hotel near a retirement living community will be used to house homeless novel coronavirus patients, causing several to say the move is too dangerous.

Residents living at Laguna Woods Village, a community for people ages 55 and over, are enraged about the Ayres Hotel being used to house the patients. The retirement community makes up most of the city of Laguna Woods and seniors are considered among the most at risk of dying from the coronavirus.

"We're really scared as to what this is going to do to our whole community," said Sue Margolis, a resident at Laguna Woods Village.

The Ayres Hotel confirms it's leasing the 138-bed hotel to the county. The city says the hotel will become a temporary housing and medical facility for homeless people "who have either already contracted, or are at high risk for contracting, COVID-19."

"If they do this they will have blood on their hands because this virus is so contagious," said Weiming Tao, a resident at Laguna Woods Village.

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An Orange County hotel near a retirement living community will be used to house homeless coronavirus patients, causing dozens to say the move is too dangerous.

In a statement, Laguna Woods Mayor Noel Hatch calls the move ill-advised and says with more than 80% of his residents age 65 and older, the move creates greater danger for an entire segment of the population they're trying to protect.

But county leaders say a surge in cases may only be a week away and they say they need to act fast following Gov. Gavin Newsom's order to find locations to reduce density in shelters.

"Speed is of the greatest importance," said county CEO Frank Kim. "It's something that we were directed to do and we did identify that it was one of the many sites across the county."

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The state also chose the Fairview Developmental Center in Costa Mesa to take patients requiring lower levels of care to help increase hospital capacity.

Many residents say they worry the virus could spread if patients and workers at the hotel visit nearby businesses. Laguna Woods management agrees there is a need to help those in need, but say they worry about who may walk out into their community.

"All of the different vendors that will be working over there, when they get off work, will they be going to our local grocery store? Will they be going to the pharmacy right across the street?" asked Eileen Paulin, director of media and communications of Laguna Wood Village. "This is where all our residents shop on a regular basis."

Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett says the facility will have 24/7 security.

"No individuals will be allowed out of the facility," she said in a statement. "The only exiting of individuals will be transport back to their point of origin. This short-term effort will provide isolation and treatment for people with Covid-19."

A statement from Ayres Hotel says, "We weighed the decision very thoughtfully and decided our community would be better served by Ayres providing our buildings to help Orange County mitigate this current health crisis."

The hotel says the month-to-month lease began April 1. Laguna Woods Village says it was never included in the discussions.

"That's the serious nature of it. The lease was signed on March 30, and it wasn't until yesterday that we heard about it," said Jeff Parker, Laguna Woods Village CEO. "The city heard about it the day before."
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