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Airbnb hosts struggle with how far to go to make properties safe during pandemic

Donna Lyerly and her team now spend four hours or more each week disinfecting Airbnb properties with strong chemicals. They drain and clean outdoor hot tubs,...

Posted: Jun 13, 2020 9:00 PM
Updated: Jun 14, 2020 6:08 AM

Donna Lyerly and her team now spend four hours or more each week disinfecting Airbnb properties with strong chemicals. They drain and clean outdoor hot tubs, wipe board game pieces and remove items that are harder to sanitize, such as throw pillows and decorative bedspreads.

"Before Covid, we were cleaning and polishing, and calling it good. It never occurred to us that we had to kill pathogens," said Lyerly, who with her husband Keith manages two dozen short-term rental properties listed on Airbnb and other vacation rental sites. "Now, we can spend 45 minutes wiping lamp and light switches, remotes, anything anyone would've touched in any way. It all has to be wiped down."

For months, Airbnb hosts struggled with the financial fallout from an avalanche of cancellations due to the pandemic. Now hosts must confront a different kind of struggle as that demand comes back: how much they are willing -- and can afford -- to do to ensure their properties are safe for customers resuming travel while the pandemic rages on.

The topic has been debated and discussed in private Facebook groups for hosts, viewed by CNN Business, with some weighing whether to ask guests to bring their own sheets and towels. Some hosts told CNN Business they plan to leave longer gaps in between stays to reduce potential for contamination, an approach Airbnb encourages; others refused to do so given the lost income from those unbooked days.

Ray Cox, who owns and manages multiple Airbnb properties in Indiana and Florida, is still doing same-day turnarounds, now that he's starting to see interest again after a three-month dry spell. He estimates he had $150,000 worth of bookings canceled.

When asked if he'd opt into an Airbnb feature to block off 72 hours between guest, he said: "I wouldn't even consider that. ...Our feeling was, if it's clean, it's clean. If we're wiping every surface and using a proper cleaner, if it's clean, it should be clean."

The cleaning issue poses a unique challenge for Airbnb at a time when it is finally seeing travel rebound. (Airbnb said it had more US bookings between May 17 and June 3, which included Memorial Day on May 25, than the same period a year earlier.) It must simultaneously work to instill confidence in guests that their stays will be safe while also trying not to overburden the millions of hosts who power its platform and have already been frustrated by recent company moves and are cash-strapped during the pandemic.

In late April, Airbnb released new enhanced cleaning protocols for hosts with guidance from a former US Surgeon General, including recommendations for how to clean every room in a home and an opt-in feature called Booking Buffer that creates an automatic 72-hour vacancy period between guests. Those hosts who commit to this cleaning protocol will get a special call-out on their listing that guests can see. But for hosts who don't opt in to these tools, it's difficult for Airbnb to enforce and monitor how hosts are cleaning.

"Although risk in travel can never be fully eliminated in any kind of lodging, we designed our expert backed cleaning protocol to help provide more peace of mind to guests and hosts," an Airbnb spokesperson said in a statement provided to CNN Business.

Airbnb also said homes provide the benefit of private spaces without the risks of common spaces like lobbies or dining halls that travelers might find in a hotel, and that hosts have an incentive to keep homes clean to receive good reviews. However, some analysts argue Airbnb does not have the same consistent standards that a hotel would have and individual properties can be difficult to vet.

"Hotels have universal cleaning ingredients, training and even consistent rooms which enable very structured and consistent processes," said Sucharita Kodali, an analyst at research firm Forrester. "Airbnb cannot maintain standards and it has no great way of auditing procedures in individual venues. The hope is that ratings and reviews are the auditing process but who wants to be the guinea pig for that?"

In the absence of one clearly enforced set of cleaning practices for all, hosts are doing what feels best to them.

Cox's cleaning crews now do a deep clean after every stay, wiping down blinds and the top edges of doors. They have added a second or third person to help clean each rental and cleaning times have jumped from two hours to up to five. They're also swapping out pillows, comforters and other bedding after each guest.

Other Airbnb hosts or their cleaners are waiting 24 hours to enter the property after guests leave, even though they know it means lost income. And even then, they're still doing a deep clean.

"110% it will hurt our business," said Neerav Patel, an Airbnb host in Pennsylvania who waits one day now before entering the property or sending a cleaning crew. "But it's just being a responsible citizen. It's the best thing to do for our community."

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 947918

Reported Deaths: 15377
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1291181990
Lake635721103
Allen53899761
Hamilton44082449
St. Joseph42122590
Elkhart33803491
Vanderburgh30574449
Tippecanoe26915251
Johnson23727418
Hendricks22410342
Porter21832347
Clark17562231
Madison17492385
Vigo16302285
Monroe14545191
LaPorte14389239
Delaware14183222
Howard13971273
Kosciusko11498135
Hancock10935166
Warrick10737178
Bartholomew10635170
Floyd10514208
Wayne10077226
Grant9213204
Morgan8928160
Boone8463111
Dubois7791123
Dearborn769490
Henry7691133
Noble7466101
Marshall7409128
Cass7219118
Lawrence7026153
Shelby6647111
Jackson661386
Gibson6190107
Harrison609386
Huntington604495
Montgomery5853105
DeKalb581091
Knox5535104
Miami548888
Putnam543268
Clinton537465
Whitley529354
Steuben501768
Wabash488692
Jasper483861
Jefferson474492
Ripley457777
Adams446068
Daviess4231108
Scott409165
Clay394957
White393858
Greene393392
Wells389884
Decatur388797
Fayette378578
Posey362341
Jennings356056
Washington334747
LaGrange325175
Spencer321136
Fountain318455
Randolph317190
Sullivan309449
Owen287064
Starke282864
Fulton280454
Orange277859
Jay257038
Perry254152
Carroll245229
Franklin242838
Rush237030
Vermillion235050
Parke221420
Tipton212055
Pike211740
Blackford170534
Pulaski168551
Crawford147318
Newton145845
Benton143916
Brown135846
Martin130217
Switzerland126910
Warren115616
Union98511
Ohio80511
Unassigned0482

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1385749

Reported Deaths: 21820
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1538881574
Cuyahoga1358332341
Hamilton987081326
Montgomery679671161
Summit568451051
Lucas51531869
Butler48000663
Stark42232983
Lorain32046539
Warren30404338
Mahoning27463643
Clermont25990297
Lake24809422
Delaware22566147
Licking20767246
Fairfield20730223
Greene20611275
Trumbull20257516
Medina20074290
Clark18170332
Richland16680236
Portage16389231
Wood15926209
Allen14333261
Miami14018261
Muskingum12927155
Wayne12185244
Columbiana11980242
Tuscarawas11204271
Marion10908150
Pickaway10606129
Scioto10531127
Erie9864171
Ross9612177
Lawrence8934125
Hancock8603143
Ashtabula8474187
Geauga8251156
Belmont8236188
Jefferson7691175
Huron7537131
Union742651
Washington7380126
Athens709365
Sandusky6963135
Darke6875137
Knox6812122
Seneca6519137
Ashland6051115
Auglaize595388
Shelby5820104
Brown575372
Mercer565190
Defiance5564101
Crawford5563117
Madison551071
Highland549282
Fulton542583
Clinton533781
Logan518687
Preble5102111
Putnam4900107
Guernsey484364
Williams468982
Perry462254
Champaign454264
Ottawa442484
Jackson434563
Pike398345
Morrow396451
Coshocton391969
Fayette383753
Adams369275
Hardin366170
Gallia355458
Holmes3321111
Henry329869
Van Wert320771
Hocking310770
Wyandot285458
Carroll266352
Paulding246443
Meigs221742
Monroe192749
Noble174142
Morgan170029
Harrison160741
Vinton141319
Unassigned05
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Monday is another nice and breezy day with warmer temperatures.
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