Are hotels and other lodging operations still serving guests?

As of May 8, 2020, at 5 p.m., the Buncombe County “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order first updated on April 9 has been revised. It allows lodging operations to accept leisure and recreation travelers from Western North Carolina — defined as residing in towns and municipalities within the 828 area code.

At this time, no commercial lodging operations — comprised of hotels and motels, bed & breakfast establishments, short-term rentals (30 days or less), campgrounds, homestays, and other paid lodging facilities — may house guests who are here from outside the 828 area code for leisure travel. [See more information here.]

It is expected that these restrictions *may* be lifted at 5 p.m. on Friday, May 22, which would more closely align with the orders made by Gov. Roy Cooper,

Can hotels house people who are homeless?

Through the connections made with help from Explore Asheville, Buncombe County public health and environmental health officials and hoteliers have collaborated on solutions and needs with respect to the COVID-19 crisis. This included discussions around the issue of housing people who are homeless.

Initially, there were complicating factors to a solution that would involve the hotels. For example, in placing homeless individuals, Buncombe County health officials needed to take into consideration the wrap-around health and human services that would be required to adequately support such an initiative – such as ongoing monitoring and checking medical stats and temperatures. In conjunction with homeless shelters, nonprofits, faith-based organizations, and others, Harrah’s Cherokee Center was deemed the best solution for a congregate emergency shelter with staff from Buncombe County Environmental Health providing guidance on physical distancing, hygiene, and food handling. [See more information here.]

As of May 11, 2020, the City has been able to transition from this model to a non-congregate shelter setting — that is, a local hotel. The nonprofit organization dedicated to ending homelessness in Buncombe County, Homeward Bound WNC, is managing all aspects of intake and transporting people to the hotel; the city will be able to provide the needed wrap-around services, and reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will help underwrite the cost. [See more information here.]

Can hotels house people who need to be quarantined or isolated?

As the COVID-19 crisis first emerged, discussions began between public health officials and hoteliers on the processes for using lodging operations for quarantine and isolation. As described on their website, Buncombe County’s environmental health manager was able to identify lodging partners to provide safe locations for isolation and quarantine housing.

On April 25, 2020, Buncombe County and Virtelle Hospitality, a local, family-owned group of hotels, announced a partnership with Dogwood Health Trust to pilot a lodging program for healthcare workers, first responders, and other frontline community members working to prevent communicable diseases and that require a safe residence to self-isolate if they were to contract COVID-19.

According to a press release from Dogwood Health Trust, the primary goal of this project is to help reduce risk of transmission of COVID-19 to the families of frontline staff, especially those that have high-risk family members at home such as seniors or those with respiratory conditions.  At the same time, the collaboration leverages under-utilized hotel rooms and potentially keeps a baseline set of hotel staff employed.

“We are proud to be a part of this community and this great partnership between the public, private, and nonprofit sector,” said Himanshu Karvir, President and CEO of Virtelle Hospitality and Vice Chair of the Buncombe County TDA.  “Not only are we glad to provide a safe place for our community members in this time of need, but also grateful for the opportunity to help get some of our furloughed employees back to work.”

For purposes of patient privacy, including HIPAA regulations, other hotels and lodging operations being used for Q&I are not disclosed.

How is the lodging community helping during the COVID-19 crisis?

In addition to the collaboration mentioned in the previous question, several Buncombe County lodging operations are offering reduced prices for healthcare personnel and other essential workers.

Members of the Asheville Bed & Breakfast Association are making home-cooked meals and delivering them to the Harrah’s emergency shelter once a week. Also, hotels have donated toiletries.

How is Explore Asheville helping the lodging community during the COVID-19 crisis?

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, Explore Asheville has helped public health officials connect with the lodging community, comprised of hotels and motels, bed & breakfast establishments, short-term rentals (30 days or less), campgrounds, homestays, and other paid lodging facilities.This has included:

VIDEO CONFERENCE CALLS: Convening four video conference calls to provide an opportunity for sharing needs and answering questions. One of those calls had more than 200 hotel representatives.

ONLINE COMPLIANCE TOOLKIT: Buncombe County’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order contains strict public health regulations that the lodging community must follow. Explore Asheville created an online Compliance Toolkit with guidance provided by Buncombe County and other trusted sources.

ESSENTIAL TRAVELERS DOCUMENTATION FORM: At the request of Buncombe County public health, we created a special form to document the stated essential work that would enable a lodging operator to accept a guest.[Note: As of May 8, this form is no longer required.]

CDC PRECAUTIONS SIGNAGE: When the SoCon Basketball Championships took place in Asheville in early March, before any of the emergency declarations had been made, Explore Asheville created special signage for host hotels to display that would remind visitors of commonsense precautions against infectious respiratory disease, including colds, the flu, and COVID-19.