Pocahontas Commissioners Consider Guidelines for Opening Lodging Back Up
At a special meeting on Friday, May 8th, the Pocahontas County Commissioners heard from representatives of several county lodging establishments as well as from Governor Justice’s Chief of Staff about problems hotels, motels, and other lodging establishments have as they begin to open up and receive guests.
In attendance were Sam Collins and Sandy Arbogast from Silver Creek, Jetta Wilfong from the Mountain Lodge Association in Snowshoe, Cara Rose from the Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB), Tom Lane from the Assessor’s Office, Mayor Sam Felton from the Town of Marlinton, and Mike O’Brien from Emergency Management.
Participants via telephonic conference call included the following: Mike Hall, Governor Justice’s Chief of Staff, Preston Cline – the Risk and Safety Manager, Snowshoe Mountain Resort, Keith Shaver and Mike Hajzer of the Silver Creek Home Owners Association and several others.
Sam Collins led off the discussion. He said there were several issues that all lodging establishments needed guidance and assistance with.
Collins talked about the dangers that housekeepers and room attendants face when they have to clean a recently occupied room because they don’t have access to proper protective equipment such as masks, gloves and gowns or have enough proper disinfectant cleaning supplies. Collins said that right now, suppliers are not selling those items on a timely basis to private companies, only to government agencies and health care facilities.
Collins pointed out that in some cases, housekeepers are fearful of doing their dangerous jobs and if the virus spreads among a housekeeping staff, it could shut down the lodging industry here.
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 linen. He said there should be a state health rule requiring all lodging businesses to do that so there is consistency.
Mike Hall said that the state is looking at creating some emergency rules and he would pass these concerns along to the attorney who writes those, but creating rules does take time.
When asked if the local health department could make rules stricter then the State Health Department’s rules, Hall said 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. Collins said purchasing insurance that would protect a business from a claim which a recent 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 suits. It was pointed out by Sam Collins that it may be unlikely for the US Congress to pass such protections because they are being lobbied heavily by the Trial Attorney Association to not do so.
Commissioner Walt Helmick summed up where things stand. He suggested holding another special session on this in a week to appoint a board or commission to develop our own local county rules and protocols and to figure out how to assist businesses obtain safety supplies. Those rules could then be passed by the Pocahontas County Commission. He said doing this might help overcome some of the issues brought up during this meeting.