Enhanced Cleaning Guidelines in Response to COVID-19
Many Hawaiian vacation rental owners have asked, “How can I, as a responsible Hawaiian vacation rental owner, create a safe working environment for my cleaners and a safe vacation rental for my guests in light of the COVID-19 pandemic?” The recommendations found below are not intended to provide a guarantee that they will be sufficient to protect your cleaner or guests from contracting the virus while either cleaning your vacation unit or, as a guest, staying in it. Rather they are intended as a summary of what we believe the issues are for our Hawaii vacation rentals and how the greatest risks might be addressed. Please see the CDC and other sources below for complete recommendations.
• VRHP-VRMA (Vacation Rental Housekeeper Professionals-Vacation Rental Management Association) https://www.vrma.org/page/covid19.
• VRBO/HomeAway’s Cleaning Guidelines
• AirBnb’s Cleaning Handbook
• State of California Guidance https://covid19.ca.gov/pdf/guidance-hotels-lodging-rentals.pdf
It is assumed that your cleaner is a professional and already adheres to many, if not all, of the standards of professional cleaning addressed in the sources above. If you advertise on VRBO or AirBnB, these documents are available to you. In addition, AirBnB’s guidelines are available to you for a nominal fee on a number of websites. Therefore the summary below is specifically addressed to the special risks created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
When Hawaii re-opens to tourists, it is expected that testing before flying and/or further testing at the state’s airports will help keep tourists who have COVID-19 from entering the state. That, combined with the already low rates of infection and statewide implementation of safe practices including use of masks and social distancing will reduce the likelihood that guests staying in vacation accommodations will be sick when they arrive or become sick during their stay. Because of this some of the measures recommended for environments such as the state of California in which the infection rate is rising rapidly may not as applicable as they are in those locations. It is recommended that owners familiarize themselves with CDC recommendations and the techniques and strategies listed in the sources above.
How the Virus is Spread
As of June 5, 2020 the State of Hawaii provided the following COVID-19 information via it’s website, https://health.hawaii.gov/docd/files/2020/01/2019_nCoV_FAQ.pdf :
“At this time, our best research shows that COVID-19 is spread in the following ways:
• It spreads between people who are in close contact with one another (within 6 feet).
• The virus travels through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks.
• These droplets can land in the mouth or nose of someone nearby or possibly inhaled into the lungs.
• COVID-19 may spread like this even if the infected person is not showing symptoms.
• There is evidence that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose or possibly eyes; however, this is not thought to be a main way the virus spreads, but we are still learning.” (pg.2)
Based on this information, it is recommended that vacation rental owners and managers should focus on how COVID-19 spreads and on doing our part to mitigate the spread. Strategies for mitigating are addressed below. These measures are intended to protect both cleaners and guests.
Mitigating the Airborne Spread of the Virus
Based on the State of Hawaii website and data emerging from studies, this is the most significant risk. Airborne spread is what makes restaurants and indoor or outdoor events with large numbers of persons close together over lengthy periods of time, particularly risky venues. It has lead to “social distancing” practices, mask wearing, and the cancelling of many events.
Numerous scientific sources tell us that respiratory droplets of the virus stay airborne for three hours (WHO) whereas aerosol (smaller) droplets stay in the air for longer periods of time – at this point not known. It is estimated to be over a period of 18 hours or less. As they drop, they are expected to deteriorate in strength. Different strategies for handling airborne droplets are discussed below.
- Strategy 1. Wait a minimum of 24 hours before anyone is allowed to enter the vacation unit. It is recommended by VRHP that waiting for the majority of droplets to fall before entering the unit (three hours) is the “safest course of action” and that longer periods of time up to 24 hours are reasonable if the situation allows. This suggests that avoiding back to backs, if possible, is preferred. Once the time has passed and the property is “safe”, the cleaner then enters the property, opens the windows to further dissipate any remaining random droplets, cleans, and sanitizes the unit’s surfaces using CDC approved sanitizing cleaners. If this strategy is employed, when the cleaner does enter, he/she will primarily be focusing on hard surfaces as the 24 hours of no entry and the open windows will address residual airborne droplets. When the schedule does not allow waiting for 24 hours, then a number of other strategies (2-4 below) can be employed.
- Strategy 2. The cleaner can utilize UV-C lamps which destroy the virus’s ability to replicate. Electric portable lamps with light wavelengths between 260-285nm will produce true UV-C light capable of disinfecting a room. Disinfection should be done before the cleaner begins standard cleaning so that he or she is protected against any potential airborne droplets. Only portable lamps which can be left in a room with a timer set to automatically turn on after a delay to allow the user to leave the room or turned on remotely and then turn off automatically after a set period of time should be used. Direct exposure to the lamps can cause severe injuries to skin and eyes. There is a wide range of power with some battery operated units emitting as little as 2.5 watts (which we doubt will adequately handle large rooms) and others, powered through electric cords, reaching 38, 60 or even 100 watts. Lamp units run from $50 to over $200 each. The lower the wattage, the longer the light must be on to effectively sanitize a large room. Cleaners must be fully educated in the technology and caution exercised during use because just a couple of seconds of UV-C light can cause severe skin and eye injuries. Lamps should be removed after use to prevent guests from using them and being injured.
- Strategy 3. Another option is the use of Electrostatic technology to spray and sanitize the air and all surfaces of the unit. Electrostatic sprayers uses a solution which is combined with air and atomized by an electrode in the sprayer. Sprayers run between $300-$700. They require a liquid which can be homemade or purchased at a janitorial supply warehouse. Cleaners would enter a unit wearing PPE and proceed to sanitize prior to engaging in standardized cleaning.
- Strategy 4. A fourth approach to sanitizing is the use of IWave technology. iWave technology uses an air purifying device that installs in any HVAC air conditioning system or any mini-split AC system. According to one of the producers of such devices, Iwaveair, when air passes over the iWave, ions produced by the device remove the hydrogen molecules from pathogens – and without them, the pathogens have no source of energy and die. In many cases, air can be cleaned in as little as 15-30 minutes. It is said that some hotels are installing these in their room mini-split systems and that their staff are told to simply wait for 15 minutes after checkout before entering to clean as the AC circulates all the air in the room through the AC system within 15 minutes. The advantages for these systems is obvious. First the air is cleaned continuously, not just at exit. Second, no action is required on the part of the cleaner to sanitize. IWave devices run between $400 and $700 each.The strategies discussed above, when implemented, will go a long ways toward addressing the risk to cleaners and guests from potential airborne virus infected droplets.
Mitigating the Spread of the Virus through Touching Surfaces.
Based on the State of Hawaii website quoted above as well as data emerging from studies, the risk of contracting the disease from touching surfaces is less worrisome than the risk from close proximity to airborne virus-infused droplets. Numerous scientific sources tell us that the virus may stay alive on a surface for 1-3 days but after 24 hours their replicative properties have deteriorated significantly. Nevertheless, it is prudent to address the potential presence of the virus on surfaces.
The strategies employed to reduce airborne droplets will also significantly reduce the risk of infection from frequently touched surfaces and soft surfaces such as Upholstered sofas and chairs. The following strategies should also be implemented.
- Frequently touched hard surfaces. It is recommended that cleaners should use a CDC approved disinfectant cleaner (that removes not only bacteria but viruses) to completely sanitize all frequently touched hard surfaces including counters, remote controls, phones, door knobs, stoves, sinks, light switches,etc. and floors. Sanitizing cleaners should be left on the surface to self-dry.
- Refrigerators and other appliances. Should be completely washed with sanitizer and all food items removed from refrigerator.
- Cabinets with seasonings and left food. It is recommended that most food and seasonings left by guests be removed. Any left items such as canned or unopened food and salt and paper shakers can be left but the containers should be sanitized along with other high touch items.
- Dishware, cookware, eating utensils. Some website guidelines recommend that all such items, whether they have been used or not, should be washed. Such a recommendation may not be feasible if owners stock a fully equipped kitchen. Given the low-risk of infection from hard surfaces and the small likelihood that unused items in the back of cupboards or drawers would have enough virus on them to deliver an infectious dose, an alternative approach may be to fill a dishwasher with the most frequently used items and/or those in the front of cupboards or drawers, put the dishwasher on sanitizing cycle setting (hot water and hot dry), and then unload the items and store with a fresh pair of gloves. It may be prudent to use sanitizer on the shelves.
- Linens. It is recommended on some websites that all linens, whether used or not, should be washed in hot water between guests. If owners have a closet or cupboard with a lock, spare linens could feasibly be locked in this closet to avoid the need to wash unused items between guests. It is recommended that cleaners handle all linens with single use gloves.
- Bedspreads, duvets, comforters, etc. Various sources recommend changing these out and washing according to manufacturer’s recommendations between guests. If owners have multiples of these in a stored closet, if may be feasible to accomplish the washing. If not, the strategies employed to remove airborne droplets will likely remove the majority of the virus if the bedcovers are fully exposed to the various treatments.
- Carpets/hard floors. Sources recommend that brooms, which may disturb droplets on a floor, not be used. Instead floors should be vacuumed using a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter. Hard floors should then be washed using a CDC-approved disinfectant that kills viruses.
- HVAC/AC systems. Some sources recommend that owners consider more frequent replacement/cleaning of filters and use high efficiency filtration filters.
- Pamphlets and promotional materials. It is recommended that all magazines, pamphlets, and other promotional materials be removed after each stay.
The following are general recommendations for cleaners in addition to their normal cleaning/disinfecting processes. It should be expected that your cleaner will have to spend extra time to be able to follow all of the protocols. Owners may wish to consider earlier checkouts and later check-ins to give their cleaner the time required. In addition, s/he may have to acquire new equipment. Therefore his/her rates for cleaning will probably increase.
- Cleaner self-check. Cleaners should do a self-temperature check prior to entering a vacation rental to clean and should not clean if s/he has any symptoms of COVID 19. The CDC provides a listing of symptoms at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/symptoms-testing/symptoms.html.
- Cleaner use of PPE. Most sources recommend that cleaners apply a protocol of wearing Personal Protective Equipment of surgical masks, gloves, and, if available, foot coverings which can be discarded after cleaning each vacation rental.
- Hand washing. Sources recommend that cleaners should wash/sanitize their hands prior to entering a vacation rental and prior to donning gloves and again when exiting. Recommended hand washing uses soap & water. Only if soap and water is not available should a sanitizer be used.
- Removal of paper items. It is recommended that cleaners discard all pamphlets and promotional materials left by previous guests.
- Treatment of linens. It is recommended that cleaners not shake linen items and bag any linens being cleaned off-site in plastic bags prior to removal. All linens should be washed in hot water.
- Floors. It is recommended that washing floors with disinfectant be done last just before leaving the vacation unit.
It is recommended that owners provide, in a conspicuous place in their vacation rental, a laminated statement for their guests identifying the sanitizing procedures that have been followed and, on a second side, a list of safe practices for guests to follow. A sample of such a document has been provided. See COVID-19 Safety Measures for our Guests which can be downloaded and edited to meet the needs of individual vacation rentals. It is recommended that the phone number of a couple of medical clinics close to the vacation rental be listed on the safe practices side of the document. Lamination services are often provided for a nominal cost at office supply stores such as Office Max/Office Depot.