Summer is usually the perfect time to satisfy your wanderlust by jetting off on near and far vacations, but during the ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, many people are asking themselves just how safe traveling is right now. While stay-at-home orders have mostly been lifted, many travel bans and restrictions are still in place. But if you do decide to get on a plane or even drive somewhere for a getaway, how safe is it to stay in a hotel? In short, not very, experts say.
"As with any public place, there are transmission risks in hotels," Andria Rusk, research assistant professor specializing in global health and infectious disease at Florida International University's College of Public Health & Social Work, tells POPSUGAR. "This risk comes from interacting with fomites — objects or surfaces that are likely to carry infection — or interacting with infected people. The risk in a hotel environment could come from interacting with hotel employees, such as front desk staff or housekeeping staff, or with other hotel guests."
The risk is elevated especially in the hotel's high-traffic, shared public spaces, like public restrooms, fitness centers, business centers, and marketplaces or dining areas. Any high-touch surfaces — such as doorknobs, elevator buttons, ink pens for signing hotel agreements, pool railings, and stair banisters — also pose an elevated risk.
Although many hotel chains like Hilton and Marriott have touted their enhanced cleaning regimens due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises against unnecessary travel right now because "travel increases your chances of getting infected and spreading COVID-19. Staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others from getting sick."
Rusk agrees, saying nonessential travel should be avoided: "It's important to recognize that because COVID-19 is contagious even in asymptomatic, seemingly healthy people, the travelers have the potential to put hotel employees at risk as much as the other way around. This would also include other people encountered during travels, like in airports, gas stations, rental car counters, and restaurants."
But what if you can't avoid staying in a hotel? There are a number of precautions you should take to make it safer. In addition to wearing a mask and practicing social distancing, bringing your own bleach spray or disinfecting wipes to go over all the surfaces and handles in a hotel — including overlooked surfaces like the TV remote control and telephone — is important, Rusk says. So is avoiding those dangerous common areas mentioned earlier.
She also recommends calling ahead to ask for a room that no one, not guests nor housekeeping staff, have entered in the past three days. "This ensures that any viral copies are deactivated before you arrive, based on the latest data we have on SARS-CoV-2's ability to survive on surfaces."
Lastly, she says, think about staying at a hotel that includes full kitchens in its suites: "That way you can limit your reliance on restaurants, take out, and hotel food by cooking for yourself."