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Airbnb is changing its cleaning procedures. Here’s what it means for travelers.

(Washington Post illustration; iStock)

Airbnb will launch new optional cleaning and sanitization protocols for its hosts starting next month, including a 24-hour buffer between stays, the company announced Monday. The company hopes the changes will help protect travelers staying in Airbnb accommodations during the coronavirus pandemic.

“The Advanced Cleaning inventory of accommodations will help give travelers even more peace of mind because their hosts have pledged to stricter cleaning standards,” Chris Lehane, the head of global policy and communications at Airbnb, told The Washington Post in an email.

The company is working with hospitality and medical experts, including a former U.S. surgeon general, Vivek Murthy, to develop its cleaning protocol with covid-19 prevention in mind.

“The protocol will be available to all hosts and we encourage them to commit and adopt these enhanced cleaning practices,” the announcement said.

According to Airbnb, the guidelines for the most stringent protocol will encourage people to wear protective equipment such as gloves and masks when cleaning properties, and use proper disinfectants. The hosts who enroll must keep listings vacant for at least 24 hours before guests check in.

That wait period is “a precaution to address the possibility of particles that may remain airborne for a few hours,” the announcement said.

Hosts who enroll in Airbnb’s new protocol, which includes a learning and certification program, will have their participation visible to potential guests as they search for a listing to book — a visible cue for those seeking the most reassurance by company standards.

“We believe our hosts will embrace the 24-hour wait period, referenced by the CDC and out of an abundance of caution, to help protect themselves and their guests,” Lehane wrote.

Hosts who choose not to enroll can instead create vacancy periods between reservations themselves using a feature called Booking Buffer. With this feature, hosts must keep their listings empty for at least 72 hours between stays. A third option for hosts is participating in neither preventive regimen.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the coronavirus is thought to spread through respiratory droplets. Airbnb says its vacancy periods should be implemented to protect travelers from possible lingering virus particles.

Adrian Hyzler, chief medical officer for Healix International, a company that specializes in security, international medical and travel-assistance services, said all home rentals such as those through Airbnb should have 24-hour vacancies at minimum, preferably with windows open and a good flow of air.

“We know that the SARS-CoV-2 virus can survive on smooth surfaces, such as plastic and stainless steel, for up to 72 hours in favourable conditions,” Hyzler told The Washington Post in an email. “We also know that the virus can survive in air for 3 hours or maybe longer.”

Hyzler said Airbnb’s 24-hour void period, plus a thorough disinfection of all surfaces (including remote controls, door handles and other touch points) is suitable for giving guests a safe environment.

Airbnb hopes the new transparency about cleaning-program enrollment to guests who are browsing may help ease concerns about booking a home-sharing stay.

“We will continue to develop and enhance our platform, tools, educational resources and enforcement, in line with governmental guidance and to help our hosts adjust to consumer needs — all to keep our hosts, guests and communities protected,” Airbnb said.

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