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You asked: I’ve been exposed to covid. Do I tell my Airbnb host?

A traveler asks the By The Way Concierge about the protocol of disclosing exposures

(Cynthia Kittler/For The Washington Post)

Traveling has always come with complications, but the coronavirus pandemic has made it more challenging than ever. Our By The Way Concierge column will take your travel dilemmas to the experts to help you navigate the new normal. Want to see your question answered? Submit it here.

My husband and I are in an Airbnb in Maine (the entire property; we’re not sharing someone’s home), and I just found out my sister tested positive for covid. We saw her for about an hour, outside for all but 15 minutes. We’re vaccinated and going to get tested, which is four days after seeing her and the day we leave this Airbnb. Do we tell our host now that we had a possible exposure? What’s the guest etiquette? — Haley

Fingers crossed you test negative! The good news is that because you’re vaccinated, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says studies show you are eight times less likely to get infected with covid-19.

To get an answer to your question, I talked to health experts and hospitality insiders. Before we get into their advice, let us look at Airbnb’s protocol for exposure situations.

Their official guidance for guests who may have covid-19 is to first get any medical attention you need; contact local health authorities and give them Airbnb’s law enforcement contact information in case they want it; and contact Airbnb and the host to let them know the situation so they can figure out next steps.

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What they don’t want you to do is include any sensitive information in your communication (for example, don’t send them medical certificates).

The policy also says “to help reduce the spread of infection, your Airbnb account will be restricted until Airbnb receives valid confirmation that you’re able to travel again.”

So in short, Airbnb says you should tell your host.

It is a much different situation if you know you’re positive (here’s their policy for quarantine and isolation stays), or if you have an exposure but haven’t checked into your Airbnb listing yet (you can read that policy here).

Keri Althoff, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said your host may appreciate a heads-up about the situation if you’re comfortable sharing that personal information. The host may ask you to open up the windows before you leave to improve the ventilation, or tell any cleaning staff to wait a little longer before they enter the place to clean it.

Jessica Malaty Rivera, an epidemiologist with the COVID Tracking Project, said she doesn’t think it’s necessary to tell your Airbnb host about an exposure like yours if you’re vaccinated and have no plans of coming into direct contact with the Airbnb owner.

“The issue would be if you are sharing the space with other people; then you would need to isolate yourself from them,” Rivera said.

Joseph Khabbaza, a critical-care medicine specialist at Cleveland Clinic, said he feels the same way. Your potential exposure is not much of a risk to the host if you’re not directly crossing paths.

“Just stepping back in general … the odds of [coronavirus] being transmitted to an owner who later comes in after they’ve checked out are extremely low,” he said. “It’s also unlikely that any live virus would be on the surfaces.”

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If you were staying at a hotel and not an Airbnb, Althoff said, you may want to alert the staff so they can take appropriate precautions.

“Sharing this information just kind of helps people remember, particularly the folks that come in there right after someone leaves to help clean and prepare for the next guest,” she said.

However, “most of these places — hotels, Airbnbs or whatever it may be — there are protocols that have been developed for more comprehensive cleaning that should be in place regardless of whether or not all this [exposure] information is shared,” Althoff added.

From Khabbaza’s perspective, “if it’s just an exposure and you are asymptomatic, I’m not sure that’s really a reportable thing to a hotel,” he said. “But you’ll never be wrong for over-reporting something.”

The hotel personnel I spoke with also welcomed more information.

Peter Yeung, the managing director of Walker Hotels, said the best results of coronavirus issues come from complete transparency and clear communication between guests and hotel management.

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“In these situations, all guests and hotel employees are in it together, and allowing hotel management to explore potential options to keep everyone safe and healthy leads to the best resolutions,” Yeung said in an email.

For example, at the Gansevoort Meatpacking NYC Hotel, guests are highly encouraged to notify a manager by phone if they have had a coronavirus exposure.

“We will do everything we can to work with the guest to create a plan for self isolation in-room while they wait for a test, including assistance coordinating meals, be that delivery or room service on disposable wares, sealed waste removal, and helping to arrange testing from local health professionals,” Anton Moore, general manager of Gansevoort Meatpacking, said in an email.

If you do test positive on the last day of your trip, whether you’re staying at a hotel or an Airbnb, Althoff said, you should quarantine. That could mean extending your stay where you are or driving yourself home. Don’t take transportation in situations where you could expose others, such as taking a train, boarding a plane or walking into a rental-car office.

A reminder: Airbnb discourages people who have tested positive from booking a listing to quarantine. “This, along with the restrictions to your account, is a necessary precaution to protect the well-being of our community,” their policy says.

Ideally, you would have an idea for such cases mapped out before you started your trip.

“No one should be traveling without a plan for 'what happens if I get sick while traveling?” Althoff said.

Have a travel dilemma for By The Way Concierge? Submit it here.

Coronavirus: What you need to know

Where do things stand? See the latest covid numbers in the U.S. and across the world. In the U.S., pandemic trends have shifted and now White people are more likely to die from covid than Black people.

The state of public health: Conservative and libertarian forces have defanged much of the nation’s public health system through legislation and litigation as the world staggers into the fourth year of covid.

Grief and the pandemic: A Washington Post reporter covered the coronavirus — and then endured the death of her mother from covid-19. She offers a window into grief and resilience.

Would we shut down again? What will the United States do the next time a deadly virus comes knocking on the door?

Vaccines: The CDC recommends that everyone age 5 and older get an updated covid booster shot. New federal data shows adults who received the updated shots cut their risk of being hospitalized with covid-19 by 50 percent. Here’s guidance on when you should get the omicron booster and how vaccine efficacy could be affected by your prior infections.

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