With a COVID-19 infection rate that is now higher than New York City’s peak in April, Florida is giving an unfortunate new double meaning to the term “hot spot.”
If you are looking for a safe haven in the Sunshine State, the brand new Hotel ELEO, located on the University of Florida campus in Gainesville, would be an excellent bet. Along with its beautiful plush guest rooms boasting luxurious bedding, free Wi-Fi and giant HDTVs with streaming services, the ELEO delivers something to travelers that’s been elusive during the pandemic: a sense of trust.
The hotel is owned and run by UF Health Shands, a private, not-for-profit hospital system that is part of University of Florida Health, the Southeast’s most comprehensive academic health center. While the primary mission of the hotel is to be of service to patients and their families, the hotel is also open to the general public.
What really differentiates Hotel ELEO from other places to stay is its relationship with UF Health Shands. Back when the hotel was in its concept stages, long before the coronavirus pandemic hit, the leadership team had already adopted a hospital-grade approach to cleaning.
“Because we are attached to the hospital, we were always going to be doing a lot of these protocols anyway,” says Jason Dugan, director of sales and marketing for Hotel ELEO.
Over the past few months, numerous hotel chains have also introduced enhanced cleaning standards and “hospital-grade” sanitation protocols, but countless reports on social media and online forums have slammed many of those chains for not living up to their promises. Granted, it’s arguably much harder for an established company to change its standards than for a brand new enterprise to put protocols in place from the get-go.
“This is an independent brand and we are literally building the brand from the ground up. Part of our culture is these training protocols from the first employee orientation,” says Dugan. “We’re doing it from day one, and we’re going to do it from now until forever.”
In the lead-up to its soft opening, key members of Hotel ELEO’s management, including the assistant general manager, executive chef and director of housekeeping, received intensive training at UF Health.
“Hotel housekeeping and hospital housekeeping are similar in many ways,” says Erica Wilcox, the hotel’s director of housekeeping. “We pay special attention to high-touch areas and make sure to avoid cross-contamination between rooms. Any supplies we use are replaced when we move to the next guest room.”
But that’s just the beginning. Television remote controls are sterilized and bagged, and items such as glasses, coffee mugs, pens and paper are absent from the room. “Once a room is cleaned and inspected a seal will be placed on the door,” explains Wilcox. “No one else will enter that sanitized room prior to the guest’s arrival. Once the guest arrives, they will enter the room, breaking the seal.”
According to the CDC’s latest travel guidelines issued last month, travelers should take advantage of contactless technology whenever possible to further reduce the possibility of spreading the virus.
Before they arrive, guests at Hotel ELEO will be encouraged to download the hotel’s app. “We’re hoping to get everybody into the mobile check-in process,” says Dugan. “A guest will basically check in on their phone, receive a digital key and then would be able to bypass the front desk. But if a guest needs an actual physical key, we have disposable key cards.”
Should a guest need to visit the front desk, plexiglass barriers are in place, and guests can use a touchless form of payment or self-swipe. All devices will be sanitized after each transaction.
The hotel’s main restaurant, Covey Kitchen + Cocktails, won’t open until September 1. In the meantime, the Gather-and-Go market is available 24 hours a day for salads, wraps and sandwiches.
Other protocols are in place throughout the property, from touchless hand sanitizer to safety notices reminding guests to maintain physical distancing, and a commitment to wear face masks. The hotel is following the Alachua County ordinance requiring that everyone — employees and guests — wear masks, says Dugan. “Every employee must answer five specific questions upon entering the building and must wear a mask at all times around our guests.”
“We’ve got safety protocols from the moment you walk in the door until it’s checkout time,” says Dugan. “There would be no safer place to stay at the moment in Gainesville, Florida.”