Five months into the COVID-19 pandemic, people are very much testing the waters when it comes to travel. While RV rentals and short-distance road trips are on the rise, many travelers are also making longer journeys and staying overnight away from home. This has led to a common question: Is it safer to stay at a hotel or rental property like an Airbnb in the coronavirus era?
For starters, experts are strongly advising against any unnecessary travel during this time, particularly given the outbreaks in various hotspots throughout the U.S.
“I still do not think that people should be traveling and should really try to stay home,” said Krutika Kuppalli, an infectious diseases physician and vice chair of the IDSA Global Health Committee.
“Avoid travel as much as possible,” advised Jagdish Khubchandani, a professor of health science at Ball State University.
But, if you must make the trip, the answer to your lodging question depends on a number of factors and requires some personal research.
“As we have learned during this COVID-19 pandemic, there is really no absolutely safe haven,” said Daniel Berliner, a physician at the virtual health platform PlushCare. “Life’s realities, however, do and will include venturing away from the relative safety of one’s home. When in a necessary travel situation, taking the steps to make where you stay clean and safe will lead to peace of mind and markedly reduce the risk of becoming ill as a result of your trip and your hotel or Airbnb/home rental stay.”
Below, health experts offer their advice for determining if a hotel or Airbnb is the best way to go during the pandemic ― and explain how to mitigate the risks involved in either choice.
Assess the facility’s policies.
“When deciding to stay at a hotel vs. an Airbnb, I would think about things like cancellation policies, cleaning policies, how they handle things like what happens if the prior individual or group staying there is found to have COVID-19,” said Kuppalli.
Another thing to check is how much time the hotel room or rental property stands empty in between guests. Many hotels and rental property owners keep spaces vacant for a number of days after a guest checks out for extra protection.
“You want to make sure you understand what the cleaning, disinfection and infection prevention policies are for the facility and what they types of precautions they are taking,” Kuppalli said.
Many believe that major hotel chains have an advantage due to greater accountability, regulations and published policies.
“Public health at a hotel is regulated by the health department, and cleaning will likely be more detailed, especially in chains with multiple locations,” said Brian Labus, a professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas’ School of Public Health. “Home rentals do not have this same level of oversight. Major chains have also been very open about the steps they are taking to protect their guests, and you often find detailed plans on their websites. You just won’t find this in a home rental.”
“Lodging is just one piece of the puzzle, so if you are concerned about protecting yourself from COVID, you need to look at your entire agenda and consider your individual health status.”
– Brian Labus, a professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas’ School of Public Health.
Still, Airbnb has taken steps to adopt COVID-19 compliant cleanliness standards and urging individual property owners to work toward those standards.
“As we are all human, we know breakdowns can occur ― whether it be in a hotel corporate operation with large numbers of employees or in an Airbnb/home rental environment with owners having different backgrounds and levels of maintenance skills,” Berliner said.
Consider the number of people you’ll encounter.
“Hotels can be riskier due to larger number of people moving around,” said Khubchandani. “They cannot force people to stay at a distance in elevators, around the lobby, near the check-in counter, etc.”
Hotels have attempted to mitigate these risks with measures like virtual check-in, elevator capacity limits and spaced out lines. Still, you can’t deny that there are more humans around ― from staff to visitors to fellow guests.
“If you are the only guest in a home rental, you will only have contact with other people when you leave,” said Labus. “A hotel will have more guests and you may come in contact with more of them.”
Analyze your health situation.
As with any decision about leaving home during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s important to assess your personal health situation.
“Lodging is just one piece of the puzzle, so if you are concerned about protecting yourself from COVID, you need to look at your entire agenda and consider your individual health status,” said Labus. “If you have recently recovered from a COVID infection and are immune (at least temporarily), you will evaluate things differently than if you are older and have a number of high-risk conditions.”
You should also consider if others in your household are at risk of developing complications if they contract the coronavirus. Your exposure could put them in harm’s way as well.
Come and go at “off peak” hours.
If you do decide to make the trip and stay in a hotel or Airbnb, there are ways to mitigate the risks involved.
“In regards to the number of people in and out of a building at a hotel, those are things you can try to mitigate by arriving and leaving at ‘off peak’ hours,” Kuppalli said.
This lowers the number of people likely to be in the lobby or elevator around the same time as you.
Wear a mask and keep your distance.
“All standard precautions for COVID-19 must be followed rigorously,” said Khubchandani. “Stay at a distance from others, wash your hands more often, carry a sanitizer, use sanitizers available around hotel and property, don’t touch your face much, wear a mask, don’t take support of surface, don’t touch many objects, e.g., on check-in counter, etc.”
Berliner advised treating your hotel or home rental as you would your own home where visitors are only allowed when they meet your standards for mask-wearing, social distancing and self-quarantine.
“You need to use these same standards, that you require for your guests, while you reside in your newly cleaned and safe hotel room or home rental,” he said.
“I would be particularly careful when in elevators and would make sure to wear a mask,” advised Kuppalli. “If you are touching the elevator buttons, make sure to use hand sanitizer after doing so, or use something like a pen or pencil to choose your floor. I would also be careful in communal locations inside where the ventilation is not good. If eating at restaurants in hotels, I would try to eat outside rather than inside.”
“I recommend that you take your own disinfecting wipes with you and regardless of where you stay that you clean down high touch surfaces when you get to where you are staying.”
– Krutika Kuppalli, an infectious diseases physician
“For the actual individual traveler, we need to ensure that the place we stay, whether a hotel or Airbnb/home rental, feels and looks clean,” Berliner noted. “If not, make the management aware and have them fix any shortfalls. You can always change stay locations if your comfort level is not met.”
If you arrive at a hotel or Airbnb and something doesn’t look like it’s been cleaned and sanitized, Berliner advised alerting management or the homeowner so that they are aware and can address it.
Sanitize surfaces and yourself.
“I recommend that you take your own disinfecting wipes with you and regardless of where you stay that you clean down high-touch surfaces when you get to where you are staying,” Kuppalli said. “This would include door handles, light switches, closet doors, faucets, counters, remotes, telephones, curtain rods, drawer handles. I would also have hand sanitizer with you so you can make sure to constantly clean your hands and have masks to protect yourself when in public spaces.”
Khubchandani added that you should shower regularly when entering the property from the outside and also give yourself a thorough cleaning after you return home.
Take precautions when you leave your lodging.
No matter where you decide to stay, the biggest risk occurs when you leave your accommodations for meals or other activities. The fact that you are traveling doesn’t exempt you from taking the same protective steps you take at home.
“The greatest risk of infection comes from being in close contact with other people, especially if they are not wearing masks,” Labus noted. “Staying in a hotel or home rental is only part of the travel process, and you have to consider more than just your lodging when it comes to protecting yourself. It doesn’t matter where you stay if you have multiple high-risk exposures as soon as you leave your room. If you will be participating in large group gatherings where social distancing rules are rarely followed, the risk from your lodging is not the main concern.”
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