At a special meeting Friday, the Pocahontas County Commissioners heard from representatives from several county lodging establishments as well as Governor Justice’s Chief of Staff about problems hotels, motels and other lodging establishments will face as they begin to reopen.
Attending the meeting were: Sam Collins and Sandy Arbogast from Silver Creek, Jetta Wilfong from the Mountain Lodge Association at Snowshoe, Cara Rose, executive director of Pocahontas County Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB), Assessor Tom Lane, Marlinton Mayor Sam Felton and Emergency Management Director Mike O’Brien.
Participating via conference call were: Governor Justice’s Chief of Staff Mike Hall, Preston Cline, Risk and Safety Manager at Snowshoe Mountain Resort, Keith Shaver and Mike Hajzer of the Silver Creek Homeowners Association and several others.
Collins led off the discussion, addressing the potential dangers housekeeping and room attendants could face when they have to handle dirty linens, or clean curtains, floors and hard surfaces in a recently occupied room. Housekeeping staff has no access to proper protective equipment such as masks, gloves and gowns or even enough proper disinfectant cleaning supplies. Collins said that, right now, no suppliers are selling those items to private companies on a timely basis. They are concentrating on providing those supplies to government agencies and healthcare facilities. Collins said attempts to buy these items results in weeks and weeks of waiting only to receive a fraction of their orders.
Preston Cline from Snowshoe said they have been trying – unsuccessfully so far – to purchase 10,000 masks and a large quantity of hand sanitizer.
Collins added that all lodging establishments in the county must work together along with the CVB to get proper cleaning and protective supplies.
Collins pointed out that, in some cases, housekeepers are fearful of doing their jobs and if the virus spreads among a housekeeping staff, it could shut down the entire hotel, or in the case of a condominium establishment like the Silver Creek Lodge, it could prevent the individual owners from renting out their units.
Collins said they also need guidance, and rules on how to handle linen and bedding. Some hotel chains are requiring guests to bring their own linens and towels. He said there should be a state health rule requiring all lodging businesses to do that so all lodging businesses are consistent. But without such a government rule, they are not even sure if they are allowed to require guests to bring their own bedding.
Mike Hall said that the state is looking at drawing up some emergency rules, and he would pass these concerns along to the attorney who writes those – but creating rules takes time.
When asked if the local health department could make rules stricter than the State Health Department’s rules, Hall indicated he believes the state DHHR would need to pass down any new rules to the local health departments, but would check on that.
A third issue facing these businesses is liability. Coll-ins said purchasing insurance that would protect a business from a claim which a guest may make alleging that they caught the virus while staying at a lodging establishment would be cost prohibitive. Hall said that while it was possible that the state could offer some protection from local lawsuits, he felt it might be better to wait for the federal government to indemnify businesses from those types of lawsuits.
Commissioner Walt Helmick summed up the current situation.
He suggested holding another special session to appoint a board or commission to possibly develop local county rules and protocols and figure out how to assist businesses in obtaining safety supplies.