Should I turn down daily housekeeping services?
Choice Hotels International’s research shows that “70 percent of guests don’t want housekeeping now,” says Megan Brumagim, vice president of brand management, design, and compliance.
Need extra towels, soap, linens, pillows, or toilet paper? Choice and other hotel companies are creating new door-hang tags—similar to those used for in-room breakfast orders—that list commonly requested items a housekeeping staff member can drop off outside.
Will I have to wear a face covering during my stay?
Many states now recommend or require face coverings in public spaces. A state-by-state list can be found here. Some hotels require them, too. “It’s the hotel’s 'duty of care' to set safe guidelines and ask everyone to comply,” says John Thomas, associate professor of hospitality law at Florida International University’s Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism Management.
But some travelers don’t want to spend their vacation behind a mask that fogs their sunglasses and makes it hard to socialize. In fact, travel agent Warner reports that she’s fielding more questions from clients about masks than cleanliness right now. “They’re concerned about how the new hotel rules will affect their overall trip experience,” she says.
Others may have a medical condition, such as a respiratory disease, that prevents them from wearing a face covering. The law protects those with medical conditions from being turned away by a hotel, says attorney Stephen Barth, founder of HospitalityLawyer.com and professor of hospitality law at Conrad N. Hilton College, University of Houston. In that case, hotels have a responsibility to find you a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to Barth. “They can ask you to stay in a corner room away from other guests or to use certain entries and exits,” he explains. If you think you qualify for an exemption, alert the hotel in advance so they can accommodate you on arrival.
To remind guests about face coverings, many hotels are communicating their policies upfront. Some are also handing out free masks to guests who are not wearing one or left theirs at home.
Will I have to get a temperature check when I check in?
While not an accurate COVID-19 detection device, temperature checks are now being used at some high-volume hotels. If you visit any Disney or Universal resort hotel, for example, expect to be scanned for fever at check-in. Heading to Las Vegas? Wynn Resorts, the Venetian, and other casino hotels are using thermal cameras at entrances to spot possible infected guests.
Can I refuse to be checked for a fever?
If you’ve been notified of a temperature policy in advance and pose a safety risk to other guests, the hotel can deny service. Because temperature checks can change the outcome of a guest stay, the hotel policy should be provided in writing and again through email reminders “several times before and after booking,” says Barth. You can also check the hotel’s policy on its website.
Can the hotel turn me away if I fail a temperature check?
If you have a fever, a hotel does not have to check you in right away. Rather, they can “require you go to a medical center for evaluation, and provide transportation to get you there,” says FIU’s Thomas. “But they shouldn’t lock the doors on you.”
So, stay cool. You’ll probably get a second and third chance. Because temperature checks aren’t always accurate, most hotels will redo them a few times if your temperature exceeds 100.4, the measured threshold for a fever, according to the CDC.
At the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, for example, if a guest shows a temperature of 100.4 or higher, the screening staff will ask the guest to go to a private waiting area. If, after a sufficient cooling-off period, the guest is still registering a fever, a medical provider will do additional screening. The guest can be tested on-site for COVID-19 or at a medical facility. If a guest tests positive for the virus, the hotel will work with the health department to determine the next steps.
What happens if a guest or hotel worker tests positive for COVID-19?
Every hotel handles these cases differently. Most hotels will work with local authorities on contact tracing. Some take guests to a medical facility if they must quarantine until cleared for return by a doctor.
CDC guidelines state that “in the event of a presumptive case of COVID-19, the affected guest room should be removed from service and quarantined for at least 24 hours after checkout,” and that “the guest room should not be returned to service until undergoing an enhanced cleaning and disinfecting.”
It’s a good idea to ask the hotel how long your room will have been out of service before your arrival.
What if other guests don’t obey the hotel’s distancing rules?
Because hotels are supposed to be havens of hospitality, they’re unlikely to adopt stringent measures when guests don’t follow COVID rules, says FIU’s Thomas. Hotels operate in larger spaces than airlines, for example, and have the ability to reconfigure social-distancing markers.
That said, many cities have ordered capacity controls to prevent overcrowding. MGM Grand limits the number of people in an elevator car to four individuals if they’re from different travel parties; larger groups may ride together if they’re part of the same household. In both cases, face coverings are required. If you’re worried about crowding, call the hotel in advance to find out their occupancy levels for your dates of stay. Physical distancing is a shared responsibility between the hotel and guests, and both are still adapting to the “new normal.”
Some upscale properties may shy away from social policing altogether. Frequent traveler Jeff Harris summed up his recent experience at tony Beverly Hills Hotel in Los Angeles: “I can’t say the hotel was very forensic about distancing. It’s hard to tell people buying $50 Cobb salads to be clean and distant.”
Could I get COVID-19 from …
A swimming pool?
Not likely. Chlorine and bromine can neutralize the COVID-19 virus if it ends up in the water. “We know that the virus doesn’t survive in chlorine, so pools are relatively safe, especially when outdoors,” says the University of Delaware’s Horney. “The real risk is people ignoring social-distancing rules.” So, stay far away from other swimmers, and beware of pool decks, chairs, tables, and cabanas.
Concern has been raised about the possibility of viral transmission via air conditioning, says Luke Leung, leader of Commercial Building, ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers) Epidemic Task Force. But a position paper on the society’s website says this risk can be reduced with proper HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) systems.
Many hotels are now reexamining their ventilation systems as part of their cleaning commitments, says AHLA’s Rogers. MGM Grand has some designated non-smoking table games and slot machine areas, and guests can reserve a Stay Well guest room with features that include a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter. If you’re worried about air quality, select a hotel where you can open the windows, advises the University of Delaware’s Kline.
If you’re concerned about COVID-19, stay away. Guests will be breathing hard and probably not wearing masks. Even if equipment is spaced 6 feet apart, you can still be at risk, says ASHRAE’s Leung.
So, is it safe to stay in a hotel?
While the CDC continues to recommend that Americans avoid nonessential travel, the decision to stay in a hotel is ultimately a personal one. Check the center’s list of COVID-19 risk factors before you make a travel plan. “Always consult with your primary-care physician before deciding to travel,” Cedars-Sinai’s Ben-Aderet advises.
If, however, you’re comfortable going to the grocery store during the pandemic, then a hotel overnight shouldn’t be a big leap. As Ben-Aderet says, “There are steps the hotel is taking to ensure a safe environment.”
Laurie Berger is a former editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter and a former travel columnist for the Los Angeles Times. She always travels with her own pillow and disinfectant wipes.