How To Be Extra Safe If You're Staying In A Hotel Right Now

What hotels are doing… and what you can do too.

It feels like it’s been years since COVID-19 first began altering the way we live and function in society. And now, with summer "travel" season in bloom and more businesses reopening with enforced social-distancing rules and sanitation procedures in place, the urge to explore beyond the walls of our homes is racing a fever pitch.

We get it. You're itching to hit the road to see America. Or perhaps you just want to bask in the glory of a high-powered air conditioner for a night. But before you do, remember that the pandemic is still very, very, very much happening. And traveling in any capacity means being extra safe, even when you're sleeping. We spoke with health and hospitality experts to see what hotels are doing to ensure safety -- and what you can do to even your odds of a safe stay. 

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hotel check in

What are hotels doing to ensure we're safe?

Hotels across the country are taking deep cleaning to new levels in order to calm nervous travelers' nerves and prevent the spread of the virus. Chip Rogers, CEO of the American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA), said the AHLA created the SafeStay guidelines to address specific safety and health concerns due to COVID-19. Member chains include Marriott International, IHG, Best Western, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, Omni, and more.  

He added that these guidelines are in alignment with CDC recommendations to make sure that hotels are following protocol across the board.   

“Most of the major brands have cleaning standards that go above and beyond SafeStay, but all the major brands… in the industry have all adopted the SafeStay guidelines as the baseline standard,” Rogers said. “Guests need to know that no matter what type of hotel they go to, whether it’s a limited-service interstate hotel or a beachside resort, that there are a set of standards that have been worked on that align with CDC recommendations so that their stay is clean and safe.”

As a part of SafeStay, hotel employees are also constantly cleaning the public areas of hotels. And they’ll be wearing masks and gloves where necessary. 

“The rooms themselves are being cleaned at a higher standard than ever before with products that have a higher alcohol content, but even in the public spaces, from the lobby to the railings to the front doors to the elevators, you’re going to see those things cleaned a lot more often,” Rogers said. “There will also be hand sanitizer and wipes available for guests as well.” 

If you’re tired of hearing about social and physical distancing, hang on tight because it’s most definitely happening at hotels too -- and it even extends to changes in the way guests can check in to their hotels. 

“You’re going to see a lot more signage when you enter into any hotel these days encouraging people to physically distance,” Rogers said. “Virtually every hotel brand is offering contactless check in. You can download the app and check right into your room without actually going into the lobby and getting a key.”

Most boutique, independently owned hotels and roadside motels are adopting similar extra-stringent cleaning policies, which they typically post on their websites. If they don't, you can always call ahead to see what measures an independent property is taking to reduce risk. 

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Should I wipe my room down?

Though hotel protocols call for much more stringent cleaning, it never hurts to be extra careful. 

Dr. Scott Weisenburg, infectious disease specialist and director of the Travel Medicine Program at NYU Langone Health, said the virus can live on surfaces for varying amounts of time. As such, it makes sense to pack some cleaning supplies and wipe down common surfaces.

“It’s a good idea to clean common surfaces if the person has not been assured that they’ve already recently been cleaned just to try to minimize the risk of getting it on your hand and touching your face and getting infected that way," he said. 

The Centers for Disease Control also suggest cleaning frequently touched surfaces (even in your own home). You can find detailed information on recommended cleaning practices here

According to Weisenburg, you can probably save yourself that hassle of cleaning every inch of your hotel room upon arrival, as your highest chance of exposure will come from being in close contact with other people. 

If you’re able to get your hands on them, bring Lysol disinfectant spray or Clorox wipes. When in doubt, clean the objects and surfaces that are touched the most, like light switches, sink faucet handles, TV remotes, and door knobs.

“I would just wipe down common surfaces. I would not do anything beyond that,” Weisenburg said. “The vast majority of exposures are going to be from close prolonged contact with individuals, so the chance of picking something up from a surface that might have been contaminated the day before is not zero, but just make sure you clean the most common things you touch.” 

Should I worry about towels and linens?

As with touching anything deemed as “clean,” there is some risk involved in using hotel linens, but Weisenburg said those risks are “statistically extraordinarily remote.” 

“I would trust the hotel soap and water as a way to clean my hands and face, and I would generally trust a hotel that has freshly laundered towels,” Weisenburg said. “If there’s any question, ask the hotel to make sure that when they delivered them, they were delivered by people who were following standard infection precautions.” 

According to the SafeStay guidelines, linens, towels, and laundry are being washed in accordance with CDC guidelines, and when possible, washed in the warmest water allowed before being dried completely. The guidelines also state dirty laundry is bagged in the guest rooms to prevent excess contact while being transported to the laundry facility. 

Where should I wear a mask?

The best way to protect yourself and others when you can’t avoid being near them -- in common areas like lobbies and hallways, for example -- is to wear a mask. 

“People should wear masks when they’re in public areas, where they cannot avoid contact with other individuals or when they’re going to be within six feet, maybe even farther than that,” Weisenburg said. “Once someone is not in a public area and they’re in their room and there’s not others that are in close contact with them who they don’t already live with, then they’re really not at any risk.” 

If you stay in your hotel room the whole time you’re visiting, the risk of infection is low. But if you do venture outside of your room, Weisenburg said the risk of contracting the virus will increase.  

“Your risk will be increased if you go outside or go to indoor exposure areas where other guests are congregating,” Weisenburg said. 

It's not really that tough. You've already got a mask on you. Just put it on.

“Right now, if you’re traveling and you get into an Uber or Lyft, you’re going to be required to wear a mask. If you get on an airplane, you’re going to be required to wear a mask. So you’ll have your mask with you,” Rogers said. 

swimming with mask
Alina Bitta/Shutterstock

Can I still hit the pool, hot tubs, or gym?

It's going to vary wildly from hotel to hotel. Check with your specific hotel on their policies on using the pool, hot tubs, and gym and whether they’re even open. Nothing’s worse than arriving downstairs in your swimsuit only to be turned away. Except maybe getting a life-threatening virus because you decided to plop down next to a stranger in a hot pool of water.

I'm still good for continental breakfast though, right?

Guests will also see changes in the way hotels serve food and beverages, meaning so long to the beloved hotel breakfast buffet as we know it. We’ll miss the DIY Belgian waffles just as much as you, but to keep the virus from spreading, we’ll have to part ways with public food displays for a while.

“The food areas where you previously would have had breakfast buffets have been replaced by the grab and go individually wrapped items so that you don't have to hang out there and certainly don't have to go through the buffet process but you still get your food,” Rogers said.

Room service has switched to “contactless room service,” where your food won’t be delivered to your room, but instead set up outside your door.

Whether bars are open will vary from hotel to hotel too. Each hotel's policy will vary, and much of it will vary further based on the policies of the city they're in. If bars are closed throughout a city it's going to mean the hotel bar is closed too. Call in advance to see if the bar will be open during your stay, or just hit the liquor store -- an essential business! -- before you check in.

What about Airbnbs?

Airbnb declined our request for an interview and pointed us to its Airbnb Enhanced Clean protocol, which was enacted in June. It was informed by the CDC and developed in partnership with leading hospitality and medical hygiene experts.

The protocol includes a quick guide and cleaning handbook, which contain information on personal protective equipment, how to clean every room in a home, sanitation standards, and what supplies to keep in the home. It’s currently available to hosts in Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Hosts who are unable to commit fully to the cleaning protocol can choose to opt into a new feature called Booking Buffer, which provides a longer vacancy period between stays for cleaning. Reservations will be automatically blocked during that time frame, currently set at 72 hours in the US.

Kristen Adaway is an editorial assistant at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter