When German immigrant Tuti Levy was serving up strawberries and cream at her Nahariya guesthouse in 1940, she couldn’t have imagined that the fledgling hotel, later revamped as the Carlton Hotel Nahariya, would serve as a convalescence home to pandemic patients 80 years later.
The hotel, on the bustling main street of the western Galilee town just a few blocks from the beach, in April became a so-called coronavirus hotel run by the IDF Home Front Command.
The Defense Ministry opened 23 hotels and hostels during the COVID-19 crisis, 12 of them for people who had tested positive for the coronavirus but had only mild symptoms and 11 for quarantining Israelis returning from abroad.
Two other hotel-hospitals — including the Carlton Nahariya — were opened to house at least 500 people who suffered more serious symptoms of the coronavirus and were on the road to recovery but still had to be isolated.
“I was scared when I found out the hotel was going to house corona patients,” said Anram Kadura, who has worked at the reception desk for the last year and was accustomed to a hotel full of Israeli guests and tourists every weekend.
Since then, several hundred Israelis sick with the coronavirus have convalesced at the hotel, receiving transportation — via a Magen David Adom ambulance — from their hospital beds, a private hotel room and three meals a day.
They have to change their own sheets and clean their own bathrooms and they get their towels and keys from staff members dressed in hazard suits and masks, but overall, said one group of patients who have become friends during their stay, it’s been a positive experience.
“There’s something about being with others who are going through what you’re going through,” said Dena Elad, 34, who has been at the hotel for a week. “They all understand.”
Many of her fellow coronavirus patients are experiencing similar symptoms, including excessive exhaustion, coughing, fever and a lack of taste and smell.
Their temperatures are taken once a day and each guest is called by a nurse daily to hear about their symptoms and see how they’re feeling.
They are each tested for the virus 12 days after arriving at the hotel, and must have two negative tests before being allowed to leave. That process can take as long as three weeks. One elderly Carlton guest has been there for 30 days, and there are entire infected families as well, including one with six sick kids.
Everyone, said Elad, gets along.
“We’re all in the same boat here,” she said.
It’s been helpful to have a place to recover from the ravages of the coronavirus, particularly for those who wanted to keep their family members healthy, said Elad and her new friends, who gathered Tuesday afternoon in her hotel room to chat about their experiences on Zoom.
They lounged together on the queen-sized bed, dressed in T-shirts and shorts, without having to keep a two-meter distance from one another because “that’s one thing we don’t have to worry about,” said Bar Shefer, 28, whose wife and newborn also tested positive for corona.
There are lots of laughs in this group thanks to in-jokes from the long days they’ve spent together.
Who gets the most care packages? Dena Elad.
Did Yochai Abucasis give the coronavirus to Aviel Damti, or vice versa? No final answer.
Will Bar Shefer ever get his infected tooth treated? Hopefully.
Are there any romances budding among the guests? Just chuckles in response to that one.
Shefer came to the hotel to avoid getting his other kids sick, and “because they said they’ll make my teeth better, but that hasn’t happened yet.” He usually goes to a private dentist. “It’s a disgrace.”
Still, he acknowledges the economic benefits of convalescing at a government-run hotel.
“You’re far from your spouse, your kids, your business, your life, so what helps you get through it is the crowd of people you meet here,” said Shefer. “And you save money on food, gas and electricity.”
Some of the patients came because they live on their own but knew they couldn’t survive a solitary existence for so many weeks. Yochai Abucasis, 23, a motorcycle repairman, has been at the hotel for a week, as has Hadar Keller, 31, a real estate agent from Rishon Lezion, whose first signals of the oncoming coronavirus were the distinctive lack of smell and taste.
“You’re surrounded by people here,” said Keller, who at first thought her lack of smell and taste were due to some bad milk poured into her morning coffee. “Everyone’s in the same boat as you are. Besides, how much TV can you watch?”
Ditto for Aviel Damti, 23, a university student who at first didn’t believe he had corona because he didn’t have any symptoms, but tested positive and quickly got bored at home.
Zahava Nagosa, 19, thinks she contracted the coronavirus at the kindergarten where she works in Netanya, even though she showed no signs of the illness when she took a private test. But with her father diagnosed with diabetes, she didn’t want to remain at home and risk having him get sick as well.
Shahar Fitoussi, 35, from Hadera, came to the Carlton from the hospital where he was recovering from respiratory issues because he didn’t want to infect his wife and two kids at home.
For now, this new crowd of friends are happy to have one another, and tend to spend part of their day sunbathing — the Carlton pool isn’t open– sometimes playing soccer with other guests in the evening, and occasionally ordering in grilled meat for dinner.
“The truth is we get tired really fast,” said Elad, who has three children under six at home in Netanya. “The coronavirus makes you tired.”
Still, this isn’t anything like a regular hotel stay. Not for the guests, nor for the staff.
Kadura, the front desk clerk, was furloughed in March, and was at home with her mother in the nearby city of Acre when she was called back to work to help process coronavirus patients. She refused to come during the first round of patients in May, and only returned two weeks ago.
Now she’s back at the front desk, which is designated as a coronavirus-free, or green, area. The patients stay in the yellow area of the hotel, and any staff members who work there have to be in protective suits, with gloves and masks. If Kadura needs to be in touch with any of the guests, she sends them a WhatsApp text message.
“I got used to it, it’s not that scary now because we follow the coronavirus rules,” said Kadura. “I can be next to a sick person and know that I won’t get sick, because I’m two meters away from them, I’m wearing a mask, I wash my hands.”
As for the guests, they’re grateful for the care.
“The staff is amazing,” said Elad. “They take care of everything for us.”