Is Airbnb safe during coronavirus pandemic?

Health experts advise against traveling to vacation rentals and second homes

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There's no guarantee that a vacation rental has been adequately cleaned to make it safe from novel coronavirus exposure, which is why health experts are urging the public to remain home.

“Entering a rental property which may not have been adequately cleaned -- let alone disinfected, sterilized and decontaminated -- could ultimately result in COVID-19 exposure," Dr. Louis Morledge, an Internist who specializes in travel medicine at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, told FOX Business. "Stay home, don't travel and certainly don't pursue a vacation rental”

The warning comes on the heels of reports that vacation rental company Airbnb hosts have posted listings claiming to be “COVID-19 retreats.”

Short-term rental company Airbnb 

Morledge says that rental properties can be contaminated if an owner is unknowingly carrying the contagious virus, which is spread through person-to-person contact or through droplets in the air when someone infected coughs or sneezes. What’s more, it’s possible for someone to contract the virus by touching a contaminated surface such as a light switch or doorknob, and the virus could live on some surfaces for several hours or even days, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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“Quarantining should not be misinterpreted as vacationing," Morledge said. "The notion of relocating to an AirBnB location that has actively marketed itself as an ‘isolation retreat’ or COVID refuge may not be the wisest decision for an individual and certainly not, for a possibly smaller, sheltered community. An influx of visitors, like pandemic vacationers, could change the current and delicate dynamic.”

Stay home, don't travel and certainly don't pursue a vacation rental,” 

- Dr. Louis Morledge, an Internist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City

A number of people have been traveling to second homes or rentals in recent weeks, particularly to affluent beach towns. Private jets have poured into places like the Hamptons in New York, and Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket in Massachusetts, with several thousand people landing in Nantucket alone. The island off Cape Cod with just one hospital has only 17,000 year-round residents but as many as 50,000 in the summer. And locals are worried that asymptomatic visitors could spread the virus and deplete food and medical resource supplies.

Nantucket Island, Massachusetts.

As a result, the CDC on March 28 advised people living in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut against non-essential domestic travel for 14 days.

However, the demand for long-term rental stays appears to be increasing. Guesty, a software company for rental owners and hosts to track their short-term rental properties, found the average nationwide reservation length has increased from four days to nine days per reservation, the company told Fox Business.

AIRBNB HOSTS LISTING PROPERTIES AS 'COVID-19 RETREATS,' DEFYING LOCALS LAWS: REPORT

“Many of the stays are in fact for 14, 30 and even 60 days,” Guesty managing director for the Americas, Omer Rabin, said.

Some hosts have started advertising their homes as “safe, clean havens," he said. And they are adding time for cleaning between guests.

“To accommodate the sanitization needs, many hosts are now adding a full day in between reservations to account for cleaning procedures,” Rabin said. “

A number of Airbnb hosts in Britain have listed rentals as “COVID-19 retreats” marketing them as “perfect for isolating in the countryside,” BBC reported. These listings would be going against coronavirus regulations in the area that prohibit holiday accommodations for essential workers who need to self-isolate, according to the broadcaster.

A spokesperson for Airbnb referred Fox Business to a recent update to the Airbnb website, which outlines the company’s policies during the coronavirus outbreak.

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“As public health guidance is still evolving, we will not allow listing titles that could be interpreted as exploiting the pandemic, such as marketing around escaping COVID-19. Additionally, we do not feel it’s appropriate to market COVID-19 related discounts or promote a listing as being well stocked on limited resources such as hand sanitizer or toilet paper,” the website says.

The home-rental service has also posted cleaning guidelines for its hosts based on insight and recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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