California hotels get new protocols, guidelines, checklist for sanitation during coronavirus pandemic

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S ince the state went into coronavirus lockdown mode, the only hotels that have remained open are those providing rooms for essential workers.

But with an eye forward, lodging properties are preparing for the day they can once again welcome leisure travelers.

The California Hotel and Lodging Association, a membership-based advocacy group out of Sacramento for hotel owners and operators, has prepared guidelines and protocols for the industry in a post-COVID-19 lockdown world. Part of that effort includes the association’s Clean + Safe guidelines, an exhaustive checklist for hoteliers as they journey toward their new beginnings.

The checklist includes more than 30 bullet points covering everything from employee and guest safety and prominent signage about social distancing and locations of hand-sanitizing dispensers, to cleaning protocols that include sanitizing elevator buttons every hour and disinfecting bell carts after each use.

“CHLA’s Clean + Safe program was the first series of protocols rolled out with the goal of getting our state’s lodging industry prepared for the eventual return of tourism,” said Sara Cummings, executive director of the Sonoma County Hospitality Association. “After its release, the State of California Department of Public Health Services and OSHA released their own set of protocols and Sonoma County (Economic Development Board) led a series of industry task forces addressing readiness in our county.”

People don’t come to a bed and breakfast to get a Hampton Inn breakfast.Larry Willis, co-owner of The Gables Wine Country Inn

One of the protocols instituted by CDPH and OSHA, published on the state’s website, calls for hotels with restaurants to limit food and beverage offerings to take-out and contactless room service.

That’s a tall order for a quaint inn.

“People don’t come to a bed and breakfast to get a Hampton Inn breakfast,” said Larry Willis, co-owner of The Gables Wine Country Inn, an eight-room hotel in Petaluma. “We offer a full-course breakfast and typically seat everybody at one time. So, I think we’ll probably have to do a staggered breakfast for people.”

The inn also has a large outdoor deck in its vineyard that may be an option for social distancing, Willis said, though because the inn is located in the Petaluma Wind Gap, weather conditions may sometimes prove precarious.

“The biggest operational changes for many hotels will be in the food and beverage area, where the number of people that are able to gather will be critical for both revenue streams and operational effectiveness,” Cummings said, emphasizing the impact from the loss of meetings and events.

Willis also must contend with navigating another portion of his business.

“The biggest thing I think we’ve got to work on, and I’m trying to get information and find some sources, is how do we sanitize our rooms once the guests leave?” he said. “We’ve got a lot of cloth, curtains, chairs, sofas, things of that nature, and all will have to be sanitized.”

The Napa River Inn, a 66-room luxury property situated within walking distance to Downtown Napa’s Riverfront District, in some respects got lucky with meeting the new guidelines and protocols, said Sara Brooks, general manager.

For one thing, the four restaurants on the property are independently owned.

“Above that, we’re really lucky the way our property is situated,” she said. “We have three different buildings, so we can offer a curbside check in without ever having to go into the lobby.”

While that helps, employees are still in contact with guests, such as the bellmen. They all wear masks and gloves, and room keys are sanitized.

Two of the inn’s three buildings have two floors; the other has three. That makes it easier for spreading out guests between floors and among the buildings, Brooks noted.

Coffeemakers remain in the rooms, but the accompaniments do not, she said. The coffeemakers can easily be disinfected, but that doesn’t work for coffee pods, stir sticks, sweeteners and creamers, which people may touch but not use. The accompaniments are now in sealed kits and available upon request or check-in.

The Napa River Inn has stayed open because it provides lodging for essential business, such as for health care workers and people who have traveled to set up testing sites, Brooks said.

(W)e have to find new ways to have that great service….Sara Brooks, general manager, The Napa River Inn

The big question going forward is how to transition the luxury property to a new business climate.

“People stay with us for our service. That’s what we’re known for and we have to eliminate a lot of those touch points that we’re used to giving,” Brooks said. “So we have to find new ways to have that great service … it just isn’t traditional, so those are the things were playing around with.”

Staff Writer Cheryl Sarfaty covers tourism, hospitality, health care and education. Reach her at or 707-521-4259.

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