August 10, 2022

New York City’s quarantine hotel program is no roach motel, former residents report — and the gift bags were positively luxurious. 

In fact, it’s more appropriate to call the free, taxpayer-funded isolation residencies Coach motels, as many visitors received designer handbags as a parting present. 

“It was very strange,” Williamsburg resident Sam Szabo told The Post of being given a Coach bag on their way home from an eight-day stay at Queens’ LaGuardia Plaza Hotel. 

The 32-year-old performance artist came down with COVID-19 this past November and chose to isolate at the hotel for fear of infecting their Williamsburg house-mate. 

“I was really grateful to have a space to quarantine away from my roommate,” said Szabo, whose bag is not currently for sale on the Coach website, where similarly-sized ones retail in the $300 range. “I have to say the whole system is incredibly impressive.” 

Still, by virtue of the situation, their stay had a number of surreal moments, including being required to empty a glass jar of salsa into paper cups before taking it to their room and walking in circles in a car drop-off area alongside fellow COVID-positive guests during thrice-daily supervised outdoor breaks. The most bizarre moment, however, came at the very end of their quarantine when, while waiting for their free taxi home, a staffer pulled them aside and informed them they were to receive a present. 

“They were like, ‘The taxi driver needs to go, but we do have a parting gift for you if you want to collect it,’ ” Szabo recalled. “At this point I was so tired of being here but [I thought], ‘Ok, fine, whatever this parting gift is, cool.’ So I drop my bags in the taxi, and they lead me over to this table that is just full of Coach purses.”

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Sam Szabo with their gifted Coach bag in front of the LaGuardia Plaza Hotel, where they quarantined when they had Covid.
Stefano Giovannini

There were racks of Coach heels, loafers, and a variety of bag options to choose from. Szabo picked out a purse, at which point a staffer asked them to take photos with it for social media before they left — bag to reality, saddled with swag. 

“To go from something that’s so liminal — a hotel but with hospital amenities, very spartan, efficient and clean, absolutely no luxury — and then walk out with a purse was a surprise,” said Szabo of the experience. “Now, I have this Coach purse. It’s a really good icebreaker story.” 

Szabo was not alone in receiving the generous, if bizarre, gift after taking advantage of the isolation program. 

“As you are leaving, they sort out your laundry, and then they tell you, you have a gift that is coming to you from Coach, which is the funniest thing ever — why would you receive a gift for this whole thing?” recalled a 34-year-old small business owner who spoke on the condition of anonymity and stayed at the same hotel as Szabo near the end of August. “You take the lift to the lobby, and just as you’re being discharged, there’s a pile of Coach bags behind a retractable rope and you walk up and pick whatever you want and somebody behind the rope hands it to you.” 

The Queens native, who currently lives in California, was visiting family at the time he contracted the coronavirus. He chose an accessory “along the lines of a wallet clutch,” which he ended up gifting to his brother’s girlfriend.

covid hotel coach bag
Szabo’s bag isn’t currently available on Coach’s website, but similarly sized bags retail in the approximately $300 range.
Stefano Giovannini

Overall, he found the handbag handout a hilarious cherry on top of an inspiringly generous and well-managed municipal program. “It’s a gift already that the city takes care of you to this extent during this crisis, and on top of this, you get rewarded for it.” 

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When he got COVID a second time, months later, he went to another coronavirus quarantine hotel and “had the same great experience, but we weren’t offered any gifts at the end — not that there’s reason to complain.” 

In response to The Post’s request for comment regarding why random quarantine hotel residents were receiving designer gear, Coach was quick to explain: The bags were a strange but sweet part of a more than $2 million community-support initiative launched through the Coach Foundation by the luxury brand house Tapestry. A press release about the initiative from April 2020 — when New York City was the global epicenter of the pandemic — brims with the passionate intensity of charitable donation announcements in those early plague days, and focuses on the hundreds of thousands of dollars in emergency funds being given to front-line workers and the repurposing of Tapestry’s New York-based 3D printers for the manufacturing of medical equipment. 

An NYC Health + Hospitals representative clarified that the free bags were part of a more recent initiative, in March 2021, when the Coach Foundation offered to make a one-time corporate donation of Coach goods to New Yorkers who had received COVID-related care in the city’s public hospital system. Most of these goods ended up being given away to isolation hotel guests, the rep added. 

“We are thankful to Coach for their generous gift to lift the spirits of New Yorkers recovering from COVID-19 or in quarantine at a NYC Test & Trace Corps Take Care hotel,” the rep told The Post in a statement. “They, like so many caring New Yorkers, were there to support those hardest hit by COVID-19.”

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