10 Tips for Staying Safe in a Hotel This Summer
As we approach yet another month of the COVID-19 pandemic, you might be developing a bit of cabin fever. That coupled with businesses beginning to reopen might be tempting you to book a vacation. Unfortunately, the pandemic is far from over, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) still suggests staying home for your own safety as well as for those you may encounter upon leaving the house. However, if you do decide to travel this summer and stay in a hotel, local laws permitting, you’ll want to take as many safety precautions as possible.
Ultimately, staying in a hotel is a calculated risk, and you should weigh not only your own vulnerability, but also that of the people you anticipate interacting with. “This is all about minimizing risk. You can’t drive that risk down to zero, but you want to do every little thing to minimize risk,” says Dr. Thomas Russo, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University at Buffalo’s Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. “If you do five or six little things, that may be the difference between you getting infected and you not getting infected.”
So, if you decide to book a hotel stay, here are 10 tips to maximize your safety during your trip.
1. Pick your destination wisely.
“An important factor is to understand regional transmission rates in your destination,” says Dr. Natasha Bhuyan, the West Coast regional medical director of healthcare provider One Medical. Common sense prevails here — if you can, avoid destinations that are seeing spikes in coronavirus cases, lest you become the latest statistic. “If you're going to a hotel where the incidence and prevalence of infection is very, very low, that's obviously going to be safer because you're less likely to run into or interact with someone that's infected,” says Dr. Russo. “But it's no guarantee. In a hotel, people are coming from different parts of the country and the world.”
2. Before booking a stay, research the hotel’s plan to protect guests and staff.
“The greatest risk of transmission comes from being in close contact with other people,” says Dr. Brian Labus, an assistant professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas’ School of Public Health. “The less contact you have to have with other people, the better off you will be.”
While you can’t control the actions of others, you can find out what a hotel is doing to encourage safety among guests and staff. Are masks required? Will the hotel provide masks for guests who don’t have them? What kind of social distancing measures are in place? Are there signs posted to educate guests on their policies? Are alcohol-based hand sanitizers readily available throughout the hotel? How often are public areas being sanitized? Is there contactless check-in?
“Visit the hotel’s website to check what steps they are taking to protect guests,” says Dr. Jonas Nilsen, co-founder of U.K.-based travel clinic Practio. “If they have communicated what measures they are taking on their website, it shows that they are transparent, which is a good sign.”
And if you don’t find your answers online, pick up the phone and ask directly — a hotel should have answers to all these questions readily available.
3. Find out what the hotel’s plans are for guests who fall ill during their stay.
“Worst case scenario, you’re suddenly not feeling well. You’re not in your hometown where you might know exactly what to do. Does the hotel have procedures for you to follow?” asks Dr. Russo. “Instead of getting you tickets for the latest show, the concierge needs to have the information for you to get your COVID test.” You can ask the hotel if it has a resident physician, or if it has information on the nearest medical facilities.
4. Wear a mask and stay at least six feet away from others.
Whether or not your destination requires mask usage or social distancing, you should adhere to all pandemic safety policies suggested by the CDC. “All the things that you have been doing to protect yourself still apply when you are staying in a hotel,” says Dr. Labus. “We are still in the midst of a pandemic, and being on vacation doesn't change that.” Wear a mask when you’re in public spaces, and stay at least six feet apart — this applies to the elevator, too.
5. Ask for a room that has not been occupied for a few days.
“According to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the coronavirus can live on some surfaces, including plastic and stainless steel, for up to 72 hours,” says Dr. Nilsen. “This means that there is a higher risk of coronavirus if the previous guest stayed in the room right before you check in. For maximum safety, ask to stay in a room that has been vacant for three days.”
That said, if the room has been properly sanitized by hotel staff between stays, the risk of contracting the virus from a previous guest is pretty small. But better safe than sorry.
6. Sanitize your room upon arrival.
Although hotels should be properly sanitizing rooms between guests, it doesn’t hurt to double down and do a quick clean yourself, especially on high-touch areas like doorknobs, light switches, TV remotes, the bathroom, and any flat surfaces like tables or countertops.
“If you want to be as safe as possible, you can bring your own linens for an added layer of protection,” says Dr. Nilsen, who also notes such an extreme measure is likely not necessary. “If hotels and other accommodation facilities are transparent about their measures and are making an extra effort to keep everything clean, you should be okay.”
The one linen you may want to steer clear of, however, is the bedspread, which may not be washed regularly (this is true regardless of a pandemic). While the likelihood of contracting COVID-19 from a bedspread is minimal, you can eliminate the risk altogether. “Remove the bedspread when you first come into the room, put it in the closet, and wash your hands,” says Dr. Russo.
7. Open your windows for ventilation.
If you’re worried about the virus traveling through the HVAC system, don’t be — at least for now. “Right now, we don’t have any proof that that’s the case, but our data is limited,” says Dr. Russo. “If it can occur, and I think that’s a big if, it’s going to be a relatively minor mode of spread compared to not wearing a mask and keeping physical distance.”
But if the windows in your hotel room open (many don’t for safety reasons), you should let that fresh air in anyway. “The risk of airborne transmission is higher in indoor spaces with poor ventilation, so it’s a good idea to open windows and doors and increase the fresh air in the room. Good ventilation can help reduce the risk of coronavirus spread,” says Dr. Nilsen.
8. Decline housekeeping services to reduce the number of people in your room.
If housekeeping staff enters your room wearing a mask, they likely won’t spread the virus to the air or surfaces. “The real risk of exposure comes from being around others, so someone cleaning your room would pose little risk to you,” says Dr. Labus. But there’s always a slight risk that improper mask usage — or no mask usage at all — could lead to the virus entering your room through housekeeping. If you’re worried, skip out on housekeeping altogether. You can always ask for fresh towels to be dropped off outside your door.
9. Order room service rather than dine out.
Given that you can’t eat or drink with a mask on, you’re best off avoiding the hotel’s restaurant and bar and instead ordering room service. “Dining in your room will limit your contact with others, so room service would be a safer alternative than going to a restaurant,” says Dr. Labus.
Worried about interacting with the staff as they deliver your meal? “If staff are practicing regular hand hygiene and disinfecting processes, and wearing a mask, they can deliver room service while remaining six feet away from you,” says Dr. Bhuyan. But you can also request a contactless delivery where your meal is left outside your door for added safety.
10. Avoid shared hotel facilities like the gym and spa.
Although a hotel might open its shared facilities, that doesn’t mean you should use them. “The gym is going to be really problematic because getting people to use masks may be challenging,” says Dr. Russo. “And if they're not using the masks, and are having an aerobic workout, they're going to expel even more respiratory secretions over greater distances. I would definitely not use a gym.”
But other facilities like the spa can be considered on a case-by-case basis. “Spa circumstances have to be individualized. If you're going for a massage and you're wearing a mask and the therapist is wearing a mask, that would be a relatively low risk,” says Dr. Russo. “But whenever you enter a situation where you interact with other individuals, there's still a relative risk.” Before you book a treatment, definitely ask questions about the spa’s safety and cleaning protocols, and if you have any doubts, skip that massage.