With infectious-disease experts saying that the worst of the coronavirus outbreak is yet to come, many organizations and companies have suspended nonessential travel for employees. President Trump restricted travel from Europe for 30 days, and several cruise lines have suspended voyages for the near future.
But travel hasn’t stopped completely. People are still taking trips for both business and pleasure, with some capitalizing on the deals that have resulted from the international health crisis.
If you’re planning to stay in a hotel, there are some precautions you should take.
According to some experts, travelers should be sanitizing surfaces in rooms or facilities wherever it’s unknown who was using them last.
“You don’t know where [previous hotel guests] come from,” says Adrian Hyzler, chief medical officer for Healix International, a company that specializes in security, international medical and travel-assistance services. “They could have just come from from Milan and [been] in there, coughing away."
According to research by the U.S. government, the novel coronavirus can live as long as three days on some surfaces, the AP reported Wednesday, making wiping down touch points a good preventative measure.
“I think it’s better to think of it not so much as protecting yourself from covid-19, but to say that, these are things that we can generally do to decrease our transmission to any respiratory viruses," says Nahid Bhadelia, the medical director of the Special Pathogens Unit at the Boston University School of Medicine.
Some spaces in hotels, like 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, say Bhadelia and Hyzler.
The guest room
A room may appear clean upon check-in. But you can’t be sure the room’s previous tenant was virus-free.
“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’ll be touching.
In addition to obvious points like remote controls, alarm clocks and the landline phone, there are the easily overlooked ones, like cabinet and drawer handles, doorknobs and door locks, light switches, desk surfaces and information booklets or brochures.
“Also consider things that are in your possession that you keep touching as you touch the environment,” says Bhadelia. “The [cell] phone is a big one.”
Hyzler recommends that guests clean their room’s touch points with 70-percent-alcohol disinfecting wipes.
Single-use items that are sealed, such as mini bar 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 its bathroom. Clean its 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 its 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.
Acknowledging the health concerns, Bhadelia says she hasn’t seen enough data to support totally avoiding the hotel pool.
“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 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.
“People are all over buffets, aren’t they? They’re left out for the whole of breakfast for three hours,” Hyzler says. “You’ve got people leaning over them, picking out their food, hopefully using the tongs. But who knows? The tongs that everyone’s been using never get wiped down.”
Some hotels, including MGM Resorts International in Las Vegas, are temporarily cutting buffet services as a preventative measure, opting for a-la-carte-dining only.
If you do hit the restaurant, Hyzler says to ensure a level of hygiene yourself.
“I wipe my cutlery down with wipes so I know they are clean," he says.