Health

Is it safe to stay in a hotel? Your COVID-19 travel questions answered

We're answering your questions about the pandemic. Send yours to COVID@cbc.ca and we’ll answer as many as we can. We’ll publish a selection of answers every weekday online, and also put some questions to the experts during The National and on CBC News Network.

From hotel stays to international and inter-provincial travel, here's what you're asking today.

Lights in the rooms of the Hilton Hotel in Toronto are lit to honour front line health care workers on Sunday April 5, 2020. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

We're breaking down what you need to know about the pandemic. Send us your questions via email at COVID@cbc.ca and we'll answer as many as we can. We'll publish a selection of answers every weekday on our website, and we're also putting some of your questions to the experts on the air during The National and on CBC News Network. So far we've received more than 44,000 emails from all corners of the country.

Is it safe to stay in Canadian hotels or motels?

The weather is getting warmer across the country, and pandemic-fatigued Canadians are itching to get out of the house.

But many of you, like Angela Y., have emailed us to ask if it's OK to book a hotel room.  

The answer depends on the precautions you take before, during and after your stay.

In Canada, many hotels are tightening their cleaning protocols in the hopes of welcoming travellers — especially after the industry was hammered by the pandemic.

The Hotel Association of Canada and the American Hotel and Lodging Association released joint health and safety protocols to help the industry adapt to new pandemic standards.

"These enhanced protocols might include [more frequent disinfecting] of common touch surfaces like door handles, light switches, remote controls, faucets," said Susie Grynol, president and CEO of the Hotel Association of Canada. 

"And in a room where we have surfaces that are difficult to clean, like throw pillows, bedspreads, the pen and pad of paper, the magazines — some of these items might be removed altogether."

If you are booking a stay, what are some things you can do to protect yourself?

Firstly, don't be afraid to ask the hotel what they're doing to keep everything clean.

Before you book a room, you should ask the hotel what their cleaning rituals are and how they're managing physical distancing, said Melissa Brouwers, a health services researcher and director of the University of Ottawa's School of  Epidemiology and Public Health.

Another question to ask, according to Colin Furness, an infection control epidemiologist and assistant professor at the University of Toronto, is if they're leaving rooms empty for a period of time after each guest has stayed there.

"If you can determine that the premises have been empty for three days, it's safe," Furness said. "If you cannot make this determination, then use disinfecting wipes on all common touch surfaces: door knobs, light switches, taps, handles, remote controls, and so forth."

Bring your own disinfectant wipes — just to be safe. 

A casino worker distributes buckets of sanitizing wipes at Caesars Palace on the Las Vegas strip as the property opens for the first time since being closed on March 17 because of the coronavirus pandemic, on Thursday. Hotel-casinos throughout the state opened this week with physical distancing guidelines and other restrictions in place. (David Becker/Getty Images)

"You want to think about high-touch surfaces," said Earl Brown, an emeritus professor of virology at University of Ottawa. "Everybody comes in and flicks the switch. They push the plunger on the toilet. They use the night table. They should be swabbed down, but if they're not ... you can swab them down yourself."

Beyond cleanliness, Furness said it's important to keep in mind that in a hotel, you may end up sharing tight spaces with other guests. 

"If there are shared hallways, then face masks and physical distancing are important," he said. "Elevators are probably the biggest area of risk."

Furness recommends waiting for an empty elevator or choosing a hotel that manages elevator traffic responsibly. He also suggests using the stairs when possible and requesting a room on a lower floor so you can minimize elevator and stairwell travel.

"If you're somewhere with a shared entry door for multiple units ... you should always use hand sanitizer right after you enter," he said.

As for the hotel's air quality, Brown said you shouldn't need to worry.

"In a circulating system in a hotel it's gone through ductwork. It's been diluted, so it's very unlikely you're going to have a problem with recirculating air."

Do you have a question about life during the pandemic? Email us at COVID@cbc.ca

Can I travel to another province? Will I have to isolate?

Canada is slowly reopening, and that has readers like Sandra W. wondering if you're allowed to make trips to other provinces.

The answer is it depends on where you live and where you're going.

While some government-imposed measures are being eased, many checkpoints and travel restrictions across the country remain in place.

Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec and Saskatchewan aren't banning travellers from other provinces or mandating that they self-isolate for 14 days. However, they all advise against non-essential travel at this time. 

Compliance officers check vehicles at the Nova Scotia-New Brunswick border near Amherst on April 5. Provincial staff stop and question anyone entering the province as part of the effort to stop the spread of COVID-19. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

Manitoba and Nova Scotia haven't shut their borders either. But anyone visiting — or returning from a trip to another province — must self-isolate for 14 days. 

Quebec, Saskatchewan and Manitoba have restricted non-essential travel to certain remote northern regions in their province to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and the territories are currently banning visitors from other provinces. But Prince Edward Island is making an exception for some out-of-towners: Canadians with seasonal properties on P.E.I. can request entry by submitting an application.

New Brunswick will allow travellers, such as P.E.I. cottage owners, to drive through its province to reach their destination — after they're screened at checkpoints.

Residents in Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick and P.E.I. can visit other parts of Canada, but must self-isolate for 14 days upon their return.

Nunavut, Northwest Territories and Yukon are banning non-essential travel to their regions, and returning travellers must self-isolate for 14 days. Nunavut residents must complete their self-isolation at a designated site outside the territory before returning. 

Yukon plans to allow people to travel between the territory and neighbouring B.C. with no restrictions starting in July. 

And what about travelling inside your own province?

While the rules are generally non-binding, the advice from most officials across the country is the same — just because regions have reopened does not mean you should be travelling, especially if you don't have a good reason to. 

The message is to use your judgment, consider the hotspots, and consult local authorities before heading out. 

When will international travel be OK?

After a long spring in isolation, many Canadians, including Wendi L., are dreaming about summer vacation plans. But if you're thinking about travelling outside Canada, COVID-19 restrictions could complicate your trip. 

Technically, Canadians can still travel abroad, despite the Canadian government's advisory warning against all non-essential international travel. (And people are still arriving here too.) But Canadians looking to leave may struggle to find flights and their travel insurance likely won't cover their medical bills if they fall ill with COVID-19.

Some travel destinations plan to start welcoming back tourists in June. But travellers may face stiff entry requirements, like getting a test to prove you're virus-free before flying. And don't forget, when you get home, international travellers will also have to self-isolate for 14 days.

If you're thinking about going state-side, think again. The Canada-U.S. border remains closed to tourists crossing by land until June 21. And that date could be extended if the number of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. remains a concern. 

You can read more about travelling outside Canada here

Thursday we answered questions about cell phones and singing.

Keep your questions coming by emailing us at COVID@cbc.ca.

With files from Sophia Harris, Hallie Cotnam

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