With Memorial Day weekend upon us and summer nipping at its heels, renting a vacation home may seem like the perfect way to get a change of scenery while maintaining social distancing protocols. Alison Kwong, a spokesperson for booking site Vrbo confirms that, beginning in mid-April, they started to see more U.S. demand on its platform, especially for longer trips toward the end of summer.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that people stay home as much as possible, especially if you're at high risk of infection, but if you do need to travel, check with state or local health departments for updates on travel restrictions, stay-at-home or shelter-in-place orders.
Are vacation rentals safe?
While rental booking sites like Airbnb and Vrbo have set out to establish cleanliness guidelines, Dr. Andrew Janowski, instructor of pediatric infectious diseases at Washington University School of Medicine/St Louis Children's Hospital, says the biggest and most under-appreciated weapon renters have against coronavirus is time.
“From the study that evaluated how long the virus persists on surfaces, we know the virus can be stable on some surfaces for up to three days,” Janowski explains. “The longer the home has been unoccupied, the better. I would be concerned there could be infectious virus if someone was in the home in the past day or two, but after about three days, I think the risk is exceedingly small.”
Dr. Thomas A. Russo, chief of the division of infectious diseases at the University at Buffalo Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, agrees. “The major mode of transmission of this virus is respiratory. If those respiratory infectious particles land on a high-touch area, and you then touch your eyes, your nose, or your mouth, etc., there’s a finite risk you could get infected. However, this virus has a half-life (meaning there is less and less of it over time). So, if you rent a house and, assuming the high-touch areas have been cleaned, the risk of getting the virus from the physical objects in the house is very low,” he says.
How can you make sure your rental is cleaned properly?
Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky told TODAY that their surveys show that travelers' top concern is cleanliness.
Online booker Vrbo recommends landlords allow 24 hours, while Airbnb recommends a CDC compliant cleaning protocol and asks landlords to agree to a minimum 24-hour buffer after a guest checks out. Hosts that can’t commit to the cleaning protocol can opt-in to a 72-hour booking buffer between stays.
Janowski recommends having an open conversation with the owner about when the last person was in the home, and perhaps, get that reassurance in writing. “The more recently someone has entered the home, the higher the risk.” Janowski explains. “This would be the one area I would push really hard if I was considering renting a home from someone.”
If the home was recently occupied by cleaners or a previous tenant, Janowski says it might make sense to delay your stay for a couple of days, even though the risk of staying in a rented home that had been entered by others recently was fairly small — and even smaller if it was recently cleaned. “The problem is that I wouldn’t know where those people had been in the home and what areas where cleaned.”
What should you clean when you get there?
Russo says it’s important to weigh your personal risk as well as the general risk of exposure. “If you’re in a high-risk group you might be more inclined to be extra cautious,” Russo says. Wipe down the keys and then consider these key areas:
Some cleaning products work better than others at killing the viral particles of coronavirus — just make sure you use them safely. The CDC recommends cleaning and disinfecting “high-touch surfaces,” like tables, hard-backed chairs, doorknobs, light switches, phones, tablets, touch screens, remote controls, keyboards, handles, desks, toilets and sinks.
Cups and plates
Wash any plates, cups, or silverware (other than pre-wrapped plastic) with dish soap and hot water, and dry thoroughly before using.
Janowski says clean sheets are of very low risk to renters. “The lone risk to the renter would be whether the person making the bed coughed or sneezed on the sheets. One way to get around this is to talk to the owner and ask if you could get clean sheets from them and then you could make your own bed.”
If you’re renting an apartment or condo in a complex, Janowski also recommends asking landlords about common areas in the building or neighborhood to get a handle on what’s open or closed, and how social distancing is practiced. “Everyone should still wash their hands after coming into contact with objects in common areas," he says.
Janowski says pools are generally safe as the water would dilute out any viral particles that are shed into them. “The chlorine in the pool will also help to breakdown the virus so no additional cleaning is needed. My biggest concern isn’t the water, it’s the people around the water. People still need to practice good social distancing once you are out of the water in any shared pool areas,” he says.
Should you quarantine when you get there?
Whether or not you should quarantine depends on if you’ve been exposed to someone with possible symptoms, or who tests positive. If you have, the CDC says you should quarantine at home. Assuming you’ve already been sheltering in place with your travel companions and everyone is in good health, social distancing on your journey — with a mask and using hand sanitizer — is vital.
What activities are safe when you get there?
Quiet, unpopulated hiking trails are one thing, crowded beaches are another.
“The greatest risk is what you decide to do on that vacation, and how many people you come in contact with and what part of the world you’re in,” Russo explains. “We can’t make risk go to zero, so you have to pick and choose your risk battles, what you deem is most important. Bring your mask, wear your sunglasses and practice good hand hygiene.”