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ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. – You’re paying for more than 100 rooms per night that are currently empty at the Hawthorne Suites by Wyndham St. Louis. It’s part of a near million-dollar contract that was not put out for bid because of the coronavirus emergency.

Two St. Louis County councilmen were surprised to find out how many people need it today – and who they are.

It’s an extended stay complex that is supposed to be reserved for first responders. Exactly $995,443 in federal CARES Act money is being spent to block off all 120 rooms for emergency workers who might need to be quarantined.

Representatives from the St. Louis County Special Committee for Oversight of COVID-19 Funds & Expenditures said there are no emergency workers there, only homeless people – about 10 of them.

Councilman Ernie Trakas said the answers stopped there.

“There’s 10 people in there now and we couldn’t get any information of how many people have occupied it for how long how much longer,” he said. “Are we obligated to it? It was beyond frustrating.”

Trakas believes answers about a no-bid contract should be immediately available.

“What I found is I couldn’t find out. I mean, you were watching and listening and, frankly, when I tried to press on it, I was told that the question’s been asked and answered when it hadn’t been,” he said.

Councilman Mark Harder also asked for answers. He said the hotel contract appears to be another overreaction similar to the temporary morgue, also known as a dignified transfer center, in Earth City. It cost $1.7 million.

“Now we’re down to no inhabitants of that dignified transfer center right now. I don’t know how long that’s going to last. It might have been built too big to what we needed,” he said. “Could we have built something better, a different way of fulfilling the same need? Those are questions we will keep asking.”

Both Harder and Trakas say they’d like further answers about how long the contract lasts and can the county get out of it?

A spokesperson for St. Louis County Executive Dr. Sam Page said they will be getting those answers to both councilmen and to Fox 2. Through the health department, it answered questions about past County emergency occupants saying there have been a total of 54 emergency quarantine occupants, 10 of whom were first responders. Of those 10, three were from the St. Louis County Police Department.

In regards to the near $1 million contract at the Wyndham, the county executive’s office said, “We granted the request of first responders to provide a safe place for them while recovering from COVID-19. It was later expanded for others who needed a safe place to recover.”

The International Association of Firefighters also spoke up in defense of the county executive, saying it worked with Page’s office to get this done.

The Association wrote:

This was a resource request first responders made at the outset based on the experiences our colleagues in Seattle/King County had where they saw up to 25% of their workforce in quarantine.

Being prepared for the worst-case scenario is our job, and that’s exactly why we serve. With over 1,500 firefighters and 2,000 police officers in St. Louis County, being ready for that possibility was critical.

We are grateful that citizens heeded the warnings and honored the stay at home order, which very clearly lessened the impact of the first wave of the pandemic in St. Louis County.

Likewise, we are grateful that the County Executive and the County Council saw fit to make advanced preparations for what was a potential worst-case scenario.

The coronavirus is not finished with St. Louis, and it will take continued vigilance and teamwork at all levels to keep our community safe.

Quote from 4th District Vice President Kurt Becker of IAFF Local 2665

You can look at St. Louis County CARES Act spending here.