Imminent COVID-19 Health Hazard for Indian River County, FL?

Screen-Shot-2020-04-28-at-5.05.13-PM

On March 27, 2020 Florida Governor Ron DeSantis issued Executive Order 20-91 extending the prohibition of short-term vacation rentals until Thursday, April 29. The Governor issued a subsequent carryover order (Executive Order 20-111) extending the ban until phase one begins on Monday, May 4 and another, 20-112, that carries the order through “phase one.”

The March 27 order said “many cases of COVID-19 in Florida have resulted from individuals coming into the state of Florida from international travel and other states, posing great risk to Florida residents” and added that “vacation rentals and third-party platforms advertising vacation rentals in Florida present attractive lodging destinations for individuals coming into Florida.”

As a result of these orders guests have been unable to schedule vacation rentals in Indian River County, FL through services like Airbnb or Expedia.

As to phase onestarting Monday, May 4, Governor DeSantis said at a recent press briefing: My hope would be, each phase, we’re thinking about weeks, we’re not thinking about months.” 

If phase one only lasts weeks, Indian River County faces physical and economic health threats posed by continuing operations of transient boarding house (rental) category of public lodging establishments.

A vacation rental is considered any unit rented for less than 30 days in a condominium or cooperative or any individually or collectively owned single-family, two-family, three-family, or four-family house or dwelling unit that is also a transient public lodging establishment but is not a timeshare project.

In an April 16, 2020 letter to The Honorable Ronald D. DeSantis, State Surgeon Scott A. Rivikees, MD, Deputy Secretary for County Health Systems Ms. Beth Paterniti, and Indian River County Health Officer Ms. Miranda Hawker, MPH, Dr. Miles Conway, President of the South Beach Property Owners Association (SBPOA) pleaded/requested remedial actions summarized as follows:

  • Require all transient boarding houses (rentals) to implement Covid-19 safety and emergency protocols to the standard of Executive Order Number 20-87, Section 1.B.(i) exempted public lodging establishments;
  • Conduct Covid-19 health and safety inspections of out of state and foreign country operated and owned transient boarding houses;
  • Properly enforce Section 2 Violations of Executive Order Number 20-87;
  • Mandate all Covid-19 booking deposits from all advertising platforms and transient room dealers be refunded in tototo the same value and currency without exception and delay;
  • Extend Executive Order Number 20-103 for another six months or until such time as exempted lodging establishments have economically recovered from Covid-19.

The SBPOA has been operating as a Florida Non-Profit organization since 1992 (28 years). It draws its’ membership from over 2,600 long term residential property owners living in over 100 different residential sub-divisions along a five mile stretch of SR A1A of the North Hutchinson Barrier Island with the Atlantic Ocean to the east and the Indian River Lagoon to the west.

Jurisdictionally the South Beach is located in an unincorporated Indian River County, which pays the County over $23 million in property taxes on annual basis on properties collectively appraised at over $2 billion.  Their per capitataxes of $9,000 is 3.3 times more than the average per capitataxes of the other 88,500 tax payers in Indian River County.

There are approximately 40 legally licensed and professionally managed and operated hotels/motels in Indian River County holding commercial all risks, including liability insurance. 15 or 38% of these hotels/motels operate within the city limits of Vero Beach.

But there are 80 County licensed transient boarding houses operating in Indian River County. The internet-based room dealing platform VRBO/Homeaway lists 614 transient boarding houses for rent in Indian River County, the overwhelming majority for less than 30 days.

This computes to a license compliance rate of 14% for VRBO/Homeaway listings only and does not include the 300 plus listings for AirBnB, the largest online room dealer.

Governor DeSantis has not addressed the health risk that may already be present or will be present when the transients arrive. Transient room dealers renting out rooms for $45 per night are not going to spend $100 on proper cleaning and disinfectant agents and hire professional cleaners to protect the public, the adjacent residential property owners and themselves unless they are legally required to.

Will transient room dealers follow these protocols required for hotels?

holidayinnlogo

  • Disinfectant products should be used that have been pre-approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for use against emerging viral pathogens. Disinfectants should be applied during routine cleaning of guestrooms.
  • Linens may become contaminated with the virus, so it is also important to add disinfectant when washing laundry. Bed scarfs and bed spreads should be washed more frequently.
  • Gloves should be worn when cleaning. Many of these cleaning products need to remain on hard surfaces for several minutes in order to work.
  • Schedule and perform routine cleaning and disinfection of all contact surfaces in public areas guestrooms, television remote controls, toilet flush handles, door handles, water faucet handles, and flooring.
  • Alcohol-based hand sanitizer should be provided that contains at least 60% alcohol in all guest contact areas and to all staff. “Social distancing” should be practiced by standing at least three feet away from others.
  • Maintain records that will help you trace who has been in contact with any infected individuals that have been to your property. Review and implement a record keeping process to maintain records of guests.

An infected renter who stays a night at his transient boarding houses or an infected transient staying at the transient boarding houses for a night has the potential to infect three cohorts of single night transients and each cohort of symptomatic and more problematic asymptomatic cohorts who start to generate a cluster of infections with ground zero not being a person but an AirBnB or Expedia (HomeAway, Hotels.com, Hotwire.com, Orbitz, Travelocity, Trivago and Vrbo) transient boarding houses.

Think of all these renters from NYC/NJ/Etc. going to Publix, Panera, the Ocean Grill etc.

Dr. Conway’s requests for remedial actions stated that the prohibition should not only apply to individuals who will be the ‘rentee’/tenant of the transient boarding houses but also the renters/room dealers who live outside Indian River County and the USA and return to their transient boarding houses for a variety of reasons.

What is perhaps more concerning are the four transient boarding houses registered to and owned by room dealers in Canada, Germany and China.

We are investigating if one man who owns a transient boarding houses on the South Beach flew back to his house from a city 100 miles from Wuhan, China via Malaysia or Singapore.

Susan Lovelace, a local citizen, recently wrote:

“Oh, my!

That is a worry I haven’t thought about with the AirBnB’s.
I am appalled by the disregard I’ve seen in just the rare times I go to Publix, of people without masks, gloves, going the wrong way up and down the aisle. I have to say the beaches across from me are absolutely packed today…with people I’ve never seen before.
I live in Melbourne Beach, and usually we have very few on the beaches near me. I’m worried this is going to shut back down real fast.  
I don’t think you’re being a downer—I call it being pro-active. I’m glad you are advocating for the ban. I know at least for here, many of the snowbirds have not returned to NY and NJ, nor will they. It’s just a mess.”
Best,
Susan

airbnb-logo

 

 

One thought on “Imminent COVID-19 Health Hazard for Indian River County, FL?

  1. Timely piece. Thank you.

    There will be a lot of “lessons learned” when this is over (and that cannot come soon enough).

    Regarding “Think of all these renters from NYC/NJ/Etc. going to Publix, Panera, the Ocean Grill etc.”, has the Governor lifted his requirement that all visitors from NY & NJ be quarantined 14 days upon arrival in Florida?

Leave a Reply