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Is it safe to stay in a hotel? What you need to know to stay healthy

by Jul 23, 2020Health

Is it safe to stay in a hotel - Inn Town Campground In Nevada City

Wondering if it is safe to stay in a hotel room because of the coronavirus? No one wants to catch COVID-19 and certainly not from a hotel stay. Hotel associations as well as many hotels, motels, inns and bed and breakfasts have created guidelines to ensure guest and employee health and safety when staying in a hotel.

Many are beginning cautiously to travel again, even as the coronavirus pandemic marches on. But travelers wonder, is it safe to stay in a hotel? The answer is yes, but with a caveat … do your homework and, even then, be prepared to stay vigilant to stay healthy.

Find out if it is safe to stay in a hotel before you book

It used to be all you really worried about with hotel safety was how secure the hotel was and what safety protocols you needed to protect your valuables and yourself. But times have changed. With the pandemic, staying healthy during your stay is just as important of a concern.

Look at the hotel, inn, or B&B website and read what procedures have been put in place to keep guests AND hotel staff safe. At a minimum, all should be following basic protocols established by the American Hotel & Lodging Association which follow CDC guidelines. If a hotel does not have clear guidelines published on how it is dealing with coronavirus, then do not stay there.

Topside Inn Outside Check In With Prosecco

Brian “Buzz” Makarewicz pours a prosecco to welcome Therese during check-in to the Topside Inn in Boothbay Harbor, Maine. For safety, checking-in was changed to be outside, under this awning, where Makarewicz and co-owner Mark Osborn can still interact with guests — distanced and masked, of course. Sanitized pens are in the jar to the left and, once used, are put the pen in the jar to the right for sanitizing. There, they also explain how the new way of doing housekeeping and breakfast.

Don’t just take the hotel’s website at face value, however. Call the hotel or inn to ask pointed questions about what the hotel is doing: What are its cleaning rituals? How often does it disinfect common touch surfaces like door handles, light switches, handrails in public areas? What is the room-cleaning procedure following a guest checking out and before another guest checks in? Some hotels are keeping rooms empty for at least 24 hours – and up to 72 hours — between guests and are conducting a thorough sanitizing – think UV wands and wipe downs. If a hotel is not doing this, and perhaps even if it is disinfecting the room, you should arrive prepared to use disinfecting wipes on all common touch surfaces in the room – doorknobs, toilet flushing handles, toilet seats, faucets, light switches, remotes … anything and any surface that is frequently touched.

Bradley Inn COVID Signage For The Restaurant

At the Bradley Inn in New Harbor, Maine, entryway signage is very clear about its requirements — with extra sanitizing supplies and masks on-hand.

Ask how the hotel is managing social distancing, check-in, elevators, restaurants or breakfast, or its public spaces. Does it have touchless check-in and mobile keys? Does it have hand-sanitizing stations throughout the hotel? Does it require face masks for employees AND guests? If not, we would not advise staying there.

Ask too about amenities. Has the hotel removed pads of paper and pens from its rooms? How about magazines? They should be removed, too. No decorative pillows, blankets, and, sorry to say, in many cases, robes. Because the less items there are in the room, the less there is to have to clean and sanitize and the less opportunities there are for a surface to be contaminated.

Topside Inn Room Cleaning Instructions In A Bag

Keeping your room as safe as possible at Maine’s Topside Inn, the note instructs guests to place bath towels, face cloths and makeup towels into the bag if they need to be replaced. Also, garbage goes into the tote, and it is then placed outside the room for pickup. A “housekeeping request list” allows guests also to check off what they need (more shampoo perhaps?) and get it delivered via tote to the door.

If you can, choose a hotel with a breakfast option. It won’t be a buffet these days, but it will mean you will have one less place to travel to and one less opportunity to expose yourself to coronavirus.

HITT Tip: Lauren Soutiea, co-owner of the Craignair Inn in Maine, has a master’s degree in public health with expertise in epidemiology. That training guides what she and her staff are doing to keep guests safe. We recently stayed there and felt as safe as if we were at our own home. At the top of the inn website, it says “We are welcoming guests who meet mandates regarding travel into Maine and agree to our COVID19 Prevention Pledge.” The inn even places a checklist in a guest’s room that shows exactly what has been cleaned and sanitized. Soutiea admitted, though, that even with her training, and knowing how clean her inn is, “If I were going somewhere, I would take wipes and sanitize the room all over again. It might be over the top, but…”

Checking in and staying safe

When you arrive at the hotel or inn, look to be sure the hotel is doing what it promised it would do. And look for additional signs that where you are staying is taking your health and the health of its employees seriously. Are there barriers at the check-in counter and physical distancing signs and reminders in the lobby? Are employees and guests you see all wearing masks and wearing them properly? Are there sanitizing stations – and face masks perhaps — available in the lobby? If not, ask for a manager before you decide to check-in. If your concerns are not promptly addressed, it might be time to find another place to stay.

Craignair Inn Window Sign Please Wear A Mask

An emblem on the entry at the Craignair Inn in St. George (Clark Island), Maine, leaves no room for error about owners Greg and Lauren Soutiea’s requirement for entry.

Keeping exposure to germs at a minimum during your hotel stay

Ensure the hotel or inn you are staying offers no-contact service throughout. By that, we mean hotel staff do not enter your room unless you request it, period. For example, room service will leave food outside of your door and will not enter your room. And when you want the dishes taken away, you will place them outside your room. Housekeeping will only enter your room upon request and only after you have left the room. And if you need more amenities, you ask and they are delivered outside your door. Indeed, breakfasts included with your stay may be delivered to your door, but with distancing and sanitizing could still be offered on a deck or in a dining room.

Topside Inn Breakfast Delivery Outside Room Door

Topside Inn in Boothbay delivers breakfast to the room door in the morning with a note inviting you to enjoy the food in your room, on the balcony, on the front lawn, wherever. When finished, you are instructed to put all containers and utensils back into the bag and leave it outside your room for pickup.

It is important to determine, as well, what the housekeeping protocols are. Be sure the housekeeping service personnel are instructed to wash their hands before they enter your room and that they will be wearing a mask at all times when in your room.

Bradley Inn Owner Wearing Face Mask And Gloves Setting The Table

Owner Laura Moskwa prepares the dining room for a group lobster dinner at the Bradley Inn in Maine. Tables are socially distanced and each set to seat only those in a family per table. Moskwa and her staff wear masks and gloves for setting, and buffets are of course non-existent.

Always take the stairs instead of an elevator if possible. Limit the amount of time you spend in a hotel’s common area. Use touchless payment systems, if available, or ensure cards are wiped down. If you must sign something, ensure that there are “sanitized, unused” pens for use and then you put a pen elsewhere to be cleaned again before another uses it (or better yet, just use your own pen). Open doors that are not automatic with an elbow or use a tissue to turn a knob and then toss the tissue. If you do travel in an elevator, use a pen, cotton swab, or other objects to push the elevator buttons, not your finger.

Learn many more techniques to fighting off germs in public spaces in our storyTravel hacks for fighting germs in public spaces – updated March 2020

Your hotel room is a safe zone, keep it sanitized

Once you are inside your hotel room, you are certainly safer than in the lobby, but this is no time to just let down your guard.

Immediately after entering your room, wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, as per CDC guidelines. Then, use disinfectant wipes to wipe down faucet handles, door handles and anything else you may have touched upon entering your room.

Be sure to occasionally clean the face mask you have been wearing, if a fabric one. Soak the mask in a sink full of water and then scrub with laundry detergent. If you didn’t pack laundry detergent, use a bit of shampoo or the bar of soap. Rinse the mask well, wring out the excess water, and then hang it to dry. It is a good idea to pack several spare masks so you always have a clean and dry one to put on.

HITT Tip: All the things you will use for your “hotel coronavirus cleaning kit” will be the same items you bring with you anywhere you travel. Be sure to read our story, “Travel after the COVID-19 pandemic: 5 things to pack to travel safely.”

You have a responsibility to keep everyone safe too

Even if the hotel you are staying in does everything correctly, it will not help if you are not a good travel citizen, too. Do not travel or check into a hotel unless you know you are free of coronavirus symptoms and are in good health. Be sure that for at least two weeks prior to traveling and checking in to the hotel, you are not engaging in any behaviors that may result in unnecessary exposure to the COVID-19 virus – at a minimum adhering to CDC mandated social distancing guidelines, frequent hand washing, and always wearing a mask when out in public. And if you do start to feel ill once you check-in, be sure to immediately notify the hotel management.

Craignair Inn Bar And Ice Cream Served Through Window

Serving ice cream and drinks for guests and community members through a window at the Craignair Inn by owner Greg Soutiea.

Cover photo: Erin Thiem mans the front desk and store window during the COVID-19 pandemic at the Inn Town Campground in Nevada City. Erin owns the campground, along with her husband, Dan. The couple also owns the Outside Inn in Nevada City.
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Acknowledgements: Story by Michael Hodgson; Photographs more...