By Natalie B. ComptonOctober 3, 2020
Hotels around the world have scrambled to implement new cleaning and sanitization protocols since the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus outbreak a pandemic in March. They brought in expert consultants and “hospital-grade” disinfectants, installed hand-sanitizing stations and plexiglass barriers at front desks, and required guests and staff to wear face masks.
While hotels appear to be doing their part, there are additional precautions guests themselves can take themselves while the coronavirus remains a risk. “There’s a shared responsibility,” says Alvin Tran, an assistant professor of public health at the University of New Haven School of Health Sciences in Connecticut.
According to health experts, travelers should sanitize surfaces in rooms and facilities whenever it is unknown who was last using them.
“You don’t know where [previous hotel guests] come from,” says Adrian Hyzler, the chief medical officer of Healix International, a company that specializes in international security, medical and travel-assistance services.
Some spaces in hotels — such the lobby, where credit cards are being exchanged and counters are being touched — are almost impossible to wipe down on your own. There are, however, other potentially contaminated places you are in control of sanitizing.
The guest room
A room may appear clean upon check-in. But you never know who was in the room just before you got there.
“If you assume that someone’s been in there coughing away, it can help focus your mind to think, ‘Alright, let’s clean everything I’m going to touch,’ and just wipe it down with alcohol wipes,” Hyzler says.
Travelers should take a look around the room and consider all of the surfaces they will be touching during their stay.
In addition to cleaning obvious points such as remote controls, alarm clocks and the landline phone, there are the easily overlooked ones, including cabinet and drawer handles, doorknobs and door locks, light switches, desk surfaces, and information booklets and brochures.
“Also consider things that are in your possession that you keep touching as you touch the environment,” says Nahid Bhadelia, the medical director of the special pathogens unit at Boston University School of Medicine. “The [cell] phone is a big one.”
Hyzler recommends that guests clean their room’s touch points using disinfecting wipes with 70 percent alcohol.
Single-use items that are sealed, such as minibar drinks, are not as concerning to Hyzler; however, he does recommend traveling with a personal water bottle and mug to avoid using potentially infected glassware.
“I wouldn’t be using the glasses in the room,” he says.
The same tips for sanitizing a hotel room go for the bathroom. Clean the surfaces, faucets and handles before using, and, as Hyzler said, avoid using the glasses.
Hyzler recommends keeping toiletries inside of a toiletry bag instead of unpacking them onto a towel on the counter.
The fitness center and pool
According to Hyzler, using the fitness center during the outbreak may be more of a hassle than it is worth.
“In regards to the gym and Jacuzzi, I just can’t imagine that it’s sensible to go visit these,” Hyzler says. “You’ve got all sorts of stuff on the equipment, and if you are going to use it, you’re going to spend hours wiping down the equipment incessantly.”
An easy alternative to using the gym is working out in your room or jogging outside. As far as the hotel pool goes, Bhadelia says she hasn’t seen enough data to support totally avoiding them.
“What you have to think about is, ‘Are people who are sick getting into those environments?’” she says. “What’s the likelihood that somebody who has a fever is jumping into a pool or using the Jacuzzi and has this disease? But who knows?”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says: “There is no evidence that covid-19 can be spread to humans through the use of recreational waters,” such as lakes, oceans, and properly chemically treated public pools and water parks. If you do use a hotel pool or hot tub, practice social distancing during your dip, wear a mask outside and around it, and be mindful of touching common surfaces.
The hotel restaurant
Exercise caution when eating at hotel restaurants, particularly self-service breakfasts.
“It’s not so much the food, but making sure that the surfaces that you touch are not publicly used,” Bhadelia says.
That means avoiding communal serving utensils at the buffets or, in Hyzler’s opinion, skipping them altogether. Some hotels, including MGM Resorts International in Las Vegas, are temporarily cutting buffet services as a preventive measure, offering only a-la-carte dining.
For those who do hit the restaurant and want to ensure a certain level of hygiene, Hyzler has a recommendation: “I wipe my cutlery down with wipes so I know they are clean.”