You may be getting a touch of cabin fever as we approach yet another month of the COVID-19 pandemic. It could tempt you to book a holiday in conjunction with companies beginning to reopen. Unfortunately, the pandemic is far from over and for your own safety as well as for others you may meet while leaving the house, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also recommends staying home. However, you would want to take as many safety precautions as possible if you plan to fly this summer and stay in a hotel, local laws permitting.
Ultimately, it is a calculated risk to stay in a hotel, and you should not only consider your own insecurity, but also that of the people you intend to communicate with. “This is all about risk minimization. You can’t push the risk down to zero, but you want to do whatever you can to minimize the risk, says Dr. Thomas Russo, head of the Infectious Diseases Division at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at Buffalo University. “If you’re doing five or six little things, it could be the difference between infecting you and not infecting you.”
So here are 10 tips to improve your protection during your trip if you plan to book a hotel stay.
- Wisely choose your destination.
“Understanding regional transmission rates at your destination is a significant factor,” says Dr. Natasha Bhuyan, regional medical director of healthcare provider One Medical for the West Coast. Here, common sense prevails-if you can, avoid destinations that see spikes in cases of coronavirus, if you do not become the newest statistic. “When you go to a hotel where the frequency and prevalence of infection is very very low, it would probably be better because you are less likely to run into someone who is infected or communicate with them,” says Dr. Russo. “But there is no guarantee. People from various parts of the country and the world come to the hotel.
- In order to protect visitors and workers, study the hotel’s strategy before booking a stay.
“The biggest risk of transmission comes from being in close contact with others,” says Dr. Brian Labus, an assistant professor at the School of Public Health at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “The less you have to have contact with other people, the better off you are going to be.”
Although you can’t monitor others’ behavior, you can find out what a hotel is doing to allow guests and staff to be safe. Are masks needed? Is the hotel going to supply guests with masks that don’t have them? What kind of steps are in place for social distancing? Are there signs on their policies posted to warn guests? Are hand sanitizers dependent on alcohol readily available in the hotel? How much are public spaces sanitized? Is a contactless check-in available?
“To verify what steps they are taking to secure guests, visit the hotel website says Dr. Jonas Nilsen, co-founder of Practio, a UK-based travel clinic. “If they have communicated on their website what steps they are taking, it indicates that they are open, which is a positive sign.”
And if you do not find your replies online, pick up the phone and inquire directly, a hotel should have readily available answers to all these questions.
- For guests who fall ill during their stay, find out what the hotel’s arrangements are.
Worst case scenario, all of a sudden you don’t feel well. You don’t know exactly what to do in your hometown. Will the hotel have protocols to be followed by you? “Dr. Russo asks. “The concierge needs to provide the details for you to have your COVID examination instead of getting you tickets for the latest display.” You should ask the hotel if it has a resident doctor, or if it has information about the closest medical facilities.
- Carry a mask and sit six feet away from everyone at least.
You should adhere to all pandemic safety measures proposed by the CDC, whether or not your destination needs mask use or social distancing. “When you stay in a hotel, all of the things you’ve been doing to protect yourself still apply,” says Dr. Labus. “We’re already in the middle of a pandemic, and that doesn’t affect being on holiday.” If you’re in public places, wear a mask, and keep at least six feet apart, this also applies to the elevator.
- Ask for a room for a few days that has not been occupied.
“The coronavirus can live on some materials, including plastic and stainless steel, for up to 72 hours, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine,” says Dr. Nilsen. This means that if the previous guest remained in the room just before checking in, there is a greater chance of coronavirus. Ask to stay in a room that has been empty for three days, for maximum protection.
That said if the room has been properly sanitized between stays by hotel workers, the risk of a previous guest contracting the virus is pretty minimal. Better safe, though, than sorry.
- Upon arrival, sanitize your bed.
Although hotels should properly sanitize guest rooms, it does not hurt to double down and clean yourself quickly, especially on high-touch areas such as door knobs, light switches, remote TVs, the bathroom, and any flat surfaces such as tables or countertops.
“If you want to be as secure as possible, for an extra layer of security, you can carry your own linen,” says Dr. Nilsen, who also states that such a drastic measure is probably not required. “If their steps are clear to hotels and other lodging facilities and make an extra effort to keep things safe, you should be okay.”
However the bedspread, which may not be washed frequently (this is valid regardless of a pandemic), is the one linen you may want to steer clear of. While the possibility of contracting COVID-19 from a bedspread is small, you can fully eliminate the chance. “When you first come into the room, remove the bedspread, place it in the wardrobe, and wash your hands,” says Dr. Russo.
- For ventilation, open your windows.
At least for now if you’re concerned about the virus spreading through the HVAC system, don’t be. “We have no proof right now that that’s the case, but our data is limited,” says Dr. Russo. “If it can happen, and I think that’s a major if, compared to not wearing a mask and maintaining physical distance, it’s going to be a relatively small mode of propagation.”
But if your hotel room’s windows are open (many don’t for safety reasons), you can always let the fresh air in. In indoor spaces with poor ventilation, the risk of airborne transmission is higher, so it is a good idea to open windows and doors and increase the fresh air in the room. Good ventilation will help lower the risk of the spread of coronavirus, says Dr. Nilsen.
- To reduce the number of people in your room, refuse housekeeping services.
If housekeeping workers enter your room wearing a mask, the virus would possibly not spread to the air or surfaces. Dr. Labus says The real risk of exposure comes from being around people, so anyone cleaning your room will pose little danger to you.” But there is always a small risk that misuse of the mask, or no use of the mask at all, may result in the virus entering your room through housekeeping. If you’re concerned, skip housekeeping absolutely. You should still call for fresh towels outside your door to be dropped off.
- Only order room service instead of dining out.
Since you can’t eat or drink with a mask on it’s best to skip the hotel restaurant and bar and order room service instead. “Dining in your room will restrict your interaction with others, so room service will be a better choice than going to a restaurant,” Dr. Labus says.
Worried about talking when they deliver your meal with the employees? “If employees conduct routine hand hygiene and disinfecting procedures and wear a mask, they will provide room service while keeping six feet away from you,” Dr. Bhuyan says. But you may also order a contactless delivery where for added protection, your meal is left outside your door.
Uh. 10. Stop hotel shared amenities such as the gym and spa.
Although a hotel can open its shared facilities, that doesn’t mean that they should be used. “The gym is going to be very troublesome because it might be difficult to get people to use masks,” says Dr. Russo. And if they do not use masks and have an aerobic exercise, even more respiratory secretions would be expelled over longer distances. I certainly wouldn’t use a gym.
But on a case-by-case basis, other services like the spa may be considered. “Spa conditions have to be personalized. That would be a very low risk if you were going for a massage and you were wearing a mask and the therapist was wearing a mask,” says Dr. Russo. “But there is always a relative risk once you reach a situation where you communicate with other people.” Before you book a procedure, certainly ask questions about the safety and cleaning procedures of the spa, and miss that massage if you have any doubts.