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April 15, 2020

Cleaning Verification for Hotels During COVID-19

By Robert L. Knight, AIA, LEED AP


As the COVID-19 crisis continues to unfold, hotel owners have begun using their facilities in non-traditional ways: housing the homeless during the coronavirus outbreak; providing additional COVID-19 care facilities; and providing short term housing for first responders. While these uses are beneficial in the short term, they also present challenges. How can hotel owners reduce the likelihood of cross-contamination while guests are in the facility? And, once the crisis passes and these spaces are reverted to guest rooms, how can hotel owners reassure patrons that all rooms are clean and safety standards have been met?

Focus on Cleaning Effectiveness

While there is currently no validated, commercially-available surface test for the COVID-19 virus, there are proxy methods to evaluate the effectiveness of the cleaning processes used by hotel staff and/or cleaning contractors. After cleaning, a Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH) or other qualified safety professional can sample surfaces in the room and test for the presence of harmful microbes. This method, called ATP testing, is used by the food processing industry as well as hospitals and schools to determine the effectiveness of the cleaning activities. ATP testing uses an instant-read device—no laboratory turnaround time required. If the test results do not meet established cleaning criteria, the CIH will recommend additional cleaning until satisfactory results are achieved. When a guest room has sampled and test results verify that cleaning standards have been met, hotel management may display signage indicating that the room is cleaned in accordance with industry-established cleaning criteria.  The CIH may provide the hotel owner with a log of rooms sampled and the measured values of results.

Ongoing Cleaning Plans are Key

ATP surface testing is helpful as a tool to evaluate cleaning effectiveness and reassure hotel staff and guests that cleaning measures meet industry standards. However, ATP testing can only evaluate the surface tested at the time of sampling. As hotel patrons come and go, and the COVID-19 pandemic runs its course, controlling the spread of the virus depends on consistent, long-term implementation of cleaning protocols.  Your CIH can provide guidance to develop appropriate cleaning protocols, as well as assisting with cleaning contractor selection. Periodic visual cleaning assessment or contractor oversight may also be valuable to evaluate the adherence to any previously established cleaning protocols.

After COVID-19: Getting Back to Business

Among the earliest affected and hardest hit during the pandemic, the hotel industry is seeking ways to reduce risk and find solutions that enable them to continue business during this crisis and beyond. Towards this end, industry organizations such as Ohio Hotel & Lodging Association (OHLA) are embracing cleaning verification and enhanced cleaning protocols. As stated by Joe Savarise, Executive Director of OHLA, “Hotel & lodging properties have always followed strict cleaning and maintenance procedures to help prevent the spread of all illnesses, but every one of them is stepping up their game in response to COVID-19. Our members are raising the bar for guest health and safety and establishing new sanitation and disinfection practices which will continue well after the current public health emergency. Together, we ensure that hotel environments are safe, and guests are protected.”

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