For many of us, this will be remembered as the summer we spent at home.
If home just isn’t cutting it, you may be planning a getaway at your favorite hotel or a physically distant escape to a picturesque Airbnb.
Hotels and Airbnbs are happy to hear that, and many of them are doing a lot to protect you and their employees during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“They’re welcomed with a smile — or as best you can interpret it through a mask,” said Jeff Bay, managing director of Hotel Ketchum in Idaho, told Healthline.
Bay said that customers are returning this month as a slew of new safety measures, such as plexiglass and physical distancing requirements, have been put in place.
As more states reopen and people consider venturing out of the comforts of home, we asked experts to weigh in on whether it’s safe to hang your hat in a hotel or Airbnb, what safety measures to look out for during your stay, and whether you need to make room in your bag for your own cleaning supplies.
Experts say if you’re going to pay to stay somewhere, make sure your host is taking the pandemic seriously.
The first step is to check websites for what steps hotels and other facilities are taking to protect guests.
“I think that as long as the hotels and Airbnbs are transparent about what measures they are taking to make sure that it is safe for people to come and stay with them, it should be OK,” said Dr. Gabriela M. Andujar Vazquez, an infectious disease physician and associate hospital epidemiologist at Tufts Medical Center in Massachusetts.
“It depends on what state we’re talking about, but the recommendations that the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] put out for hospitality and opening would be something to look at to make sure that there’s a guidance,” she said.
Andujar Vazquez recommends looking at the local guidelines and contacting the hotel or Airbnb you’re interested in beforehand to see what exactly they’re implementing.
Decreased occupancy, frequent disinfecting, digital keys, 24-hour vacancy between guest departures, and digital check-in are some measures now available at many hotels.
The CDC recommendations released last week on how to safely travel include a lengthy list of tips.
They include wearing masks in the lobby or other common areas, taking the stairs instead of riding elevators with strangers, and minimizing your time in areas where you might be closer than 6 feet to other people. These include dining rooms, fitness centers, or lounging areas.
If you have your sights set on an Airbnb, be aware of their changes.
Every host who commits to their Enhanced Cleaning Protocol will receive a special callout on their listing in the coming days, a spokesperson told Healthline.
The protocol is a signal to guests that they’re committed to a stepped-up cleaning and sanitization routine.
Hosts who are unable to commit to that protocol can opt into something called Booking Buffer to create a longer vacancy period between stays.
A buffer between guests is something Dr. Patrick Hughes, DO, director of the emergency medicine simulation program at Florida Atlantic University, encourages.
“If you have 3 days between visitors, that basically is the end of the shelf life for the virus at that point in time, so all surfaces should be safe by then,” Hughes told Healthline.
Dr. Stacey Rizza, an infectious disease specialist at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, which advised Hilton Hotels on their cleaning and disinfection protocols, says customers should look for COVID-19 safety measures in hotels and wherever else they go.
“Particularly whether or not they are regularly disinfecting high-touch surfaces, whether public spaces and private rooms are being cleaned and disinfected frequently, whether the staff are wearing appropriate protective equipment and following the rules of social distancing, and acknowledge that they’ve put these measures in place and are adhering to them,” Rizza told Healthline.
The reality today is that many of the activities we enjoy now involve some risk due to COVID-19.
Hotels are no different.
“Anytime you, whether it’s board an airplane or stay in a hotel, or go to a gym, or somewhere where there’s public space and crowds of people, there’s an increased risk for getting COVID-19,” Hughes said.
Being aware of the areas of potential risk in a hotel or Airbnb is important.
Those would include high-contact surfaces, such as light switches, remote controls, and doorknobs.
Areas where people congregate, such as the public hotel bathrooms, gyms, or buffets (which remain closed in many hotels), are places where the virus could potentially spread.
Staying away from home can be safe “as long as people are aware of high-contact surfaces and making sure to clean those, or making sure the hotel has their staff aware that all those spaces and surfaces need to be cleaned,” Hughes said.
The presence of employees who are actively cleaning and disinfecting is a good sign.
“Staff members that are cleaning throughout the day — you’ve seen that instituted in grocery stores, where common surfaces, such as the handles on the freezer section or whatever else, are continuously being wiped down during the day by staff members to try and decrease the risk of contact spread,” Hughes said.
Andujar Vazquez notes that you may notice cleaning personnel becoming increasingly more visible.
“In hospitality, they typically had this mantra before the pandemic where you don’t need to see the cleaning but cleaning happens magically,” she said.
“Now it’s turning into, ‘We are going to make it visible so that people know that we are actually doing it.’ So I’m thinking that we are going to start seeing more and more of these visible cleaning people are around, cleaning public spaces. That’s probably what I (would) look for,” Andujar Vazquez said.
How comfortable are you with the idea of staying away from home?
How confident are you that the place you’re staying in is taking all the necessary precautions?
Experts say you need to ask yourself these questions before traveling.
“I think that’s going to be what we are going to have to be dealing with for the next couple of weeks and months — the level of trust into certain things that we won’t be able to control,” Andujar Vazquez said.
“Trusting that people are doing the right thing and following guidance by the department of public health and CDC, and making sure that they are trying to keep (people) safe,” she said.
It’s also important to be informed about the number of COVID-19 cases in the city or town you’re traveling to.
“I think that in an area where there may be reports of some uptick of cases, it might be preferable to avoid if you can,” Andujar Vazquez said.
As long as it has been cleaned properly beforehand, your hotel room or Airbnb should be a less risky environment than any shared space.
“Only you and whoever is staying with you are using that bathroom, so you know that no one else is using that bathroom,” Andujar Vazquez said. “If you’re going to the lobby bathroom, then other people are going there, so think about the areas where it would be shared.”
Andujar Vazquez adds that she wouldn’t be concerned about air conditioning spreading the virus in the hotel setting.
“I would not be concerned in the community itself, because the areas where we’re most concerned are when it’s in the healthcare setting mainly, because we do a lot of things that produce a lot of aerosols,” she said.
“In a hotel, or an apartment or a house, if you have good ventilation — meaning you can either open the doors or open windows — it should be OK. Presumably, you’re not staying there with sick people,” Andujar Vazquez said.
Rizza notes that research is still underway on this issue, and we should wait for the definitive data.
“Mayo [Clinic], in fact, is engaged in air decontamination and simulations of viral particles and how they would spread, and what’s needed to filter and what’s needed to kill it,” she said.
“Again, we have to remember that just having a virus or having a little piece of a virus in the air doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll infect. To do the research appropriately, we have to look at whether there is still infectious virions that can potentially infect another person, because that’s really what we care about,” Rizza said.
Should you bring your own cleaning supplies to your destination?
The experts’ answers are mixed.
Hughes recommends that customers wipe off commonly contacted surfaces “to help protect themselves and know that they are doing as much as possible to prevent themselves from getting coronavirus.”
“I don’t think it’s necessary to bring all your supplies,” Andujar Vazquez said. “I mean, it’s something you can do if it makes you feel more comfortable about going forward and staying in a space that’s not yours.”
Rizza says that if you’re staying at a place like Hilton that’s taking the virus seriously, has put measures in place, and can document that they’re following them, “I don’t think you would need to bring your own cleaning equipment.”
“But obviously it’s up to each person for their individual comfort, and if you choose to stay in a location that does not have these measures in place, then certainly on an individual level you can maybe choose to do that yourself,” she added.
Bay and his team in Idaho are taking many steps to protect the customers who choose the boutique hotel for their getaway, and the response so far has been positive.
“(There’s) a little bit of anxiety just wondering how guests may react,” he told Healthline. “But we’ve been very, very pleasantly surprised that the vast majority of guests have not only been very, very supportive but very pleased by the efforts we’ve taken to ensure their safety.”