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Sanitizing, masking and air-flow analysis: Alaska hotels adapt to pandemic

  • Author: Scott McMurren
    | Alaska Travel
  • Updated: November 7, 2020
  • Published November 7, 2020

The Inlet Tower Hotel and Suites on Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017. (Loren Holmes / ADN archive)

It’s one thing to take COVID-19 precautions in the air: Travelers have to wear the obligatory mask on the plane, but some also wear gloves, along with the occasional face shield.

But once you get to where you’re going, it’s likely you’ll spend more time in a hotel. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers guidance for hotels and resorts on developing a plan to keep COVID-19 at bay. But one size doesn’t necessarily fit all. So, the plan for each hotel probably looks a little different.

Bob Gross and his wife, Melanie, run the Inlet Tower Hotel, at the corner of West 12th Avenue and L Street in Anchorage.

“Every day, we get up and there’s a new normal — and we’re making changes,” he said.

During the summer, the hotel hosted lots of North Slope workers who had to quarantine in their rooms. “They stayed in their rooms for 14 days. We came and put food under their doors,” Gross said. “There were no problems, and no reported positives (for COVID-19) for the staff or guests.”

Gross said the staff has made many changes to keep the hotel clean: hand sanitizer on every floor, at the entrance to every public space and at the front desk.

But the new “restaurant reality” called for something different. Out on the lawn, you can see six “Inlet Igloos” where a family can enjoy a meal from the Pub House restaurant. “We’ve got two more being built,” said Gross. The igloos are heated and are lit up at night with more than 1,000 LED lights.

Outdoor dining at the Inlet Tower Hotel is available in one of the “Inlet Igloos.” (Photo courtesy Inlet Tower Hotel)

In Midtown, at 101 E. Tudor Road, the new Hyatt Place Hotel opened a little over a year ago in May 2019 with 150 rooms. “Guests will notice a lot more signage and hand sanitizer around the hotel,” said Leann Sommer, the hotel’s director of sales.

As part of the Hyatt family of hotels, the Hyatt Place abides by the company’s “Global Care and Cleanliness Commitment,” which includes accreditation through the “Global Biorisk Advisory Council."

“We have training on hygiene and well-being,” said Sommer. “There’s also mobile check-in and check-out, and guests can use their phone as their room key.”

The Harbor 360 Hotel in Seward usually is filled with tourists each summer. But it’s open year-round and the wintertime guests are all business. “Right now, most of our guests are Coast Guard or grocery store employees,” general manager Kyle Nuckols said.

“The most impactful difference for guests is the suspension of stayover services,” Nuckols said. “The room is untouched for the duration of the stay.” Even so, guests can request housekeeping services, as well as fresh towels and trash collection.

Recently, the City of Seward lifted its mandatory mask policy, but the hotel continues to mandate face coverings for both staff and guests. “We offer disposable masks to our guests,” Nuckols said.

The Harbor 360 Hotel has a comprehensive COVID-19 response page on its website detailing its policies.

Even though Cordova is a short flight from Anchorage (about 50 minutes), you have to spend the night since there’s just one flight in and one flight out per day.

Pedestrians cross Cordova's 1st Street on September 17, 2019. (Marc Lester / ADN archive)

Sylvia Lange runs the Reluctant Fisherman Inn, a 47-room hotel that’s right on the water overlooking the Cordova harbor.

“As a community, Cordova had some stringent protocols from the beginning of the pandemic,” Lange said. “At the hotel, we created quarantine rooms with hot water kettles, masks, hand sanitizer and some food, so guests could stay put.”

The rooms have microwaves and refrigerators, and each wing of the hotel has its own entrance.

“All the vending machines and ice machines are gone. And our housekeeping staff put new linens and cleaning supplies in the hall," Lange said.

The hotel’s restaurant and bar is closed for the winter.

“We haven’t had any positive COVID cases at the hotel,” Lange said. “Now, there’s good testing here in Cordova. We’re giving away masks, since there is a mask rule in Cordova.”

Another coastal community, Ketchikan, has a waterfront hotel overlooking the Tongass Narrows: The Edgewater Inn.

“We’ve got 46 rooms, along with a restaurant and bar,” said Michael Briggs, the hotel’s general manager.

There are great views of the water, especially from the restaurant. The hotel also has a small marina.

“Right now, the restaurant and bar are temporarily shut down following a spike of COVID-19 cases in Ketchikan,” he said. “We might open back up for takeout only.”

In Ketchikan, there’s no mask mandate. “With COVID-19 cases rising, bars are encouraged to close and restaurants are urged to limit capacity to 50%,” Briggs said. “But there’s no mandate.”

The Edgewater Inn has a box of masks for guests, as well as hand sanitizer. The hotel, which is owned by Highgate Hotels, has a comprehensive COVID-19 update page online.

Bonni Brooks is the general manager at Sophie Station in Fairbanks, and she’s also the “COVID czar” for Sophie’s and its sister hotel, the Wedgewood Resort. Sophie Station has 150 rooms, but the Wedgewood Resort is much larger, with 450 rooms.

“At the beginning of the pandemic, we put together a task force,” Brooks said. “We analyzed the air flow of all our indoor spaces. That includes lobbies, restaurants and restrooms. Then we had to change how those spaces are used.”

Brooks spends a lot of time doing research on what the CDC mandates, as well as Alaska’s Department of Heath and Social Services. The hotel, like many others, also developed its own COVID-19 response plan.

“We concentrate on surface disinfectant, masking and social distancing,” Brooks said. “But we also take steps like making sure your room has been vacant for 24-72 hours before you check in."

The extra time gives the housekeeping staff the chance to disinfect all the surfaces in the room. That includes disinfecting all the soft goods, such as upholstery and pillow cases.

Brooks encourages travelers to call ahead if they have concerns about COVID-19.

“Everybody is committed to keep our community safe,” Brooks said. “My nightmare is that I don’t want one single employee or guest to be affected by the virus. That guides our actions.”

Brooks admits there was some pushback to the hotel’s mask mandate in the beginning of the pandemic. “But no one pushes back about a clean room or being far away from someone who’s sneezing,” Brooks said.

So, when you’re ready to travel and you need to stay in a hotel, be sure to check out the COVID-19 policy. Most hotels have them readily available online. Or, follow Brooks' idea to go ahead and call the front desk.

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