How Will Hotels Ensure Unvaccinated Guests Remain Masked?

For over a year, mask mandates have divided the nation, even dominating the news cycle and leading to political confrontations. Now that the U.S. is in the transition mode of phasing out restrictions for fully vaccinated individuals, the debate around masks is still a matter of confusion and chaos.

As it stands, airlines have been having a tough time with unruly passengers who refuse to comply—as many as 3,000 disrupted passengers have been reported to the Federal Aviation Administration (2,300 over mask issues) this year. But they aren’t the only ones caught in this web. Most businesses are making their own decisions about masks and the situation is not easy to navigate.

What Are Hotels Saying?

According to the latest CDC update, fully vaccinated individuals don’t need to wear a mask in most settings. It’s safe for them to meet people indoors, dine at restaurants, and attend events. They will, however, need to wear masks on all public transportation (excluding outdoor transit hubs) and at healthcare centers, among other places. States or cities may also enforce their own mask rules that everyone will need to comply with.

On the heels of the latest CDC update, the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) also revised its guidelines for hotels. Chip Rogers, President and CEO of AHLA, said in a statement: “In light of the recent CDC announcement that fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear a mask or physically distance in most settings, our Safe Stay guidelines will relax mask requirements for guests who are fully vaccinated. At this time, we are not asking hotels to require proof of vaccination status, but we do ask that all guests and workers, vaccinated or not, respect and honor these revised guidelines. Unvaccinated guests should wear face-coverings and practice physical distancing at all times in public settings.”

Employees will continue to wear masks and hotels can ease up restrictions for vaccinated staff working outdoors, but local and state requirements will be followed. Taking a cue from the CDC and AHLA, Hyatt Hotels is also easing its mask mandates in the U.S. Fully vaccinated guests don’t need to wear masks indoors or outdoors, while a face covering is mandatory for unvaccinated guests indoors as well in areas outdoors where social distancing is not possible. Staff will continue to wear masks indoors and will be allowed to ditch them outdoors. Marriott, too, will let guests forgo face coverings in the US unless required by local law.

Some hotel chains may still have stricter guidelines. Hilton’s team, for example, will remain masked, while guests will be encouraged to practice social distancing and wear face coverings “where it makes sense to do so, including in indoor public areas and in jurisdictions where it remains required,” said a spokesperson from Hilton. Airbnb, which has banned parties globally until the end of summer, will continue to enforce its safety practices, which include wearing a mask and maintaining social distance.

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Why Hotels Have a Tough Road Ahead

It was predicted that vaccine passports will take over every aspect of travel, but it hasn’t happened yet in the U.S. As of now, hotels are not inquiring about the vaccination status of their guests. Without proof of vaccination, they are relying on an honor code and trusting guests to follow safety protocols.

Since it’ll be a challenge to determine who’s vaccinated or not, Dr. Terika Haynes (who is the Founder of Dynamite Travel), advised, “The best options may be for properties to continue their previous COVID-19 protocols as much as possible, which may include temperature screenings, health questionnaires, social distancing, hand sanitizing stations, and advanced cleaning protocols of rooms and public areas.”

There may be no mask or vaccine policing at hotels, but signs, protocols, and reminders can highlight the need to be safe. Timothy Hentschel, CEO and Co-Founder of HotelPlanner, recommended that hotels should respectfully remind guests upon arrival that if they’re unvaccinated, they should wear a mask and maintain social distance. But with such contrasting opinions on masks, there are bound to be defaulters.

At Graton Resort & Casino in California, Safety Ambassadors ensure mask compliance, and guests who don’t follow their health and safety guidelines are asked to leave. A Hyatt spokesperson clarified that if guests inform them that they’re not fully vaccinated and refuse to wear a mask, the hotel can ask them to leave or require guests to remain in their room during their stay.

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Should You Go Maskless During Your Next Hotel Stay?

Studies show fully vaccinated people have a low risk of getting sick and transmitting coronavirus to other unvaccinated people. However, vaccinated individuals are still choosing to wear masks. The decision depends on the community transmission rates, federal and local guidelines, and personal comfort. More importantly, trust.

It’s a sticky situation because there’s no way to know who is being honest. As guests, you may have to give the benefit of doubt to an unmasked hotel-mate. If you have a reason to mask up (an unvaccinated child or immunocompromised family member), or if you’re simply not ready to let go of the mask yet, know that it’s okay to be nervous.

“The vaccines are very effective and it is important people trust them, so a lot comes down to personal risk tolerance,” explains infection prevention epidemiologist, Dr. Saskia Popescu. “I encourage people to consider their own comfort levels and make decisions based on that. If you’d prefer, pick a smaller hotel, eat outdoors, etc. If an area has a high community transmission rate, I understand wanting to take extra safety steps based on personal comfort.”

On the other hand, if you aren’t fully vaccinated yet, you are at risk of not only getting infected yourself but also taking the virus back home to your friends and family. So, continue to mask up, keep your distance, and stay safe.

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