COVID and hotel ventilation
April 30, 2022 8:19 AM   Subscribe

Spouse and I are flying internationally to visit my parents, who are older and have some co-morbidities that increase their risk of severe illness with COVID, later this summer. Due an early takeoff time, we will have to stay at a hotel near the airport the night before. Images on Tripadvisor indicate that most of the airport hotels have windows that can be opened, but also wall vents (rather than motel-style individual heating/cooling units). My concerns: Is building-wide hotel HVAC considered to be a COVID risk? If so, would keeping the AC off and the window open during our entire stay be sufficient to mitigate this risk, or should I keep looking for a more-distant hotel with completely isolated rooms (stressful but probably do-able)? Chaos option: Is there any non-damaging way to seal the room vents while we're there?

Yes, I do realize the time in the airport and while the plane is on the runway probably represent a more significant risk, but we'll be mitigating the best we can with Aura FFP3/N99 masks and only partially removing them to "eat" protein shakes through a straw while the in-flight ventilation system is fully active.
posted by nanny's striped stocking to Travel & Transportation (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
As usual with covid, it's unclear. The CDC response to this question is here.
posted by tiny frying pan at 8:40 AM on April 30, 2022 [5 favorites]

They sell magnetic wall vent seals. If you can get the hotel to supply you with the dimensions, you can just slap one of those suckers on. If not, press and seal with painters tape should provide reasonable coverage without damaging the paint. (I haven’t stayed in a hotel for this exact reason. So I am giving you my “what would I do IF” planning, not something I’ve tried.
posted by Bottlecap at 9:01 AM on April 30, 2022

A reasonably modern hotel would likely not have a ventilation system intended to recirculate air from one room to another. Typically there is a supply of outdoor air from some sort of rooftop unit which comes down to each level, runs the length of the floor and provides outside ventilation air to each room. There is also an exhaust system from the bathrooms which join together and blow that air outside of the building. Within each room is some sort of heating/cooling device (fan coil or heat pump) typically above the ceiling of the entry or bathroom to condition the outdoor ventilation air and recirculate air within the room to an appropriate temperature.
So, if the building is fairly modern and systems are operating correctly there should be no significant risk of Covid from adjacent guest rooms.
In older buildings it was also common for the ventilation air to be dumped into the corridors and then enter guest rooms via undercuts in the corridor doors. This of course does mean that air in the corridor enters guest rooms, but generally people do not spend significant time in corridors which should mitigate this risk.
Personally, I'd stay at a close by hotel, and consider blocking the bottom of the door off if it isn't already a sealed design (also good for sound and light from the corridor).
posted by meinvt at 9:52 AM on April 30, 2022 [6 favorites]

I would call the hotels to ask about this, the pictures could be ambiguous - I stayed at a hotel a couple of weeks ago that had a grilled air vent on the wall, but it was recirculating air that was drawn in from the room itself behind a semi-concealed wall panel (no visible grill). The rooms also had windows that open.
posted by aiglet at 10:35 AM on April 30, 2022 [1 favorite]

Seconding meinvt - a wall grille does not necessarily mean that there's a building-wide HVAC system. Each room could still have its own heat pump. If it's not in the wall under the window it's quite likely in the lowered ceiling area between the entry and the main part of the room, as meinvt notes.
posted by LionIndex at 11:01 AM on April 30, 2022

Is building-wide hotel HVAC considered to be a COVID risk?

The fact that pretty much all community COVID infection in Australia can be traced back to transmissions from inside hotel "quarantine" says that yes it absolutely is.

Isolating rooms within a single building well enough to prevent room-to-room transmission of an aerosol-borne respiratory disease requires air handling engineered specifically for that purpose, which the HVAC systems in commercial buildings are not. If you can smell a sneaky smoker breaking the rules somewhere on your floor, which you almost always can in a hotel, then you're also being exposed to any COVID that anybody on your floor is aerosolizing.
posted by flabdablet at 11:06 AM on April 30, 2022 [3 favorites]

Flabdablet has nailed it for hotels. But as pointed out, there are other risks in travel, just as there are in any activity involving going outside the home (or inviting others into it).

You don't say, but I presume you are fully vaccinated, or will be prior to travelling?

How long are you planning to stay? I suggest you plan on allowing enough time to catch the bloody thing, quarantine long enough to get over it to be non-infectious, and then go visit your parents. Do a RAT when you arrive at the destination airport, and maybe immediately before you arrive at your parents place, to be sure.

Also think about the possibility that one of you catches it, you both quarantine, then a week later the second catches it. If only planning a shortish trip, think about only the sick one quarantining.
posted by GeeEmm at 4:17 PM on April 30, 2022

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