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Hotel industry seeks more input on virus restrictions

Bans prompted by tourism

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Seaside hotels

Unlike other cities on the North Coast, Seaside has not explicitly banned short-term stays, instead asking hotels to abide by the honor system of only allowing essential employees and people in need of quarantine.

SEASIDE — The Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association is pushing some local governments to make restrictions on hotels over the coronavirus more of an industry decision to ensure essential workers have places to stay.

Astoria, Warrenton, Cannon Beach and Clatsop County quickly passed bans on short-term stays in hotels and other lodging after an influx of spring break visitors last weekend. Gearhart adopted the county’s order. Seaside discouraged visitors but did not explicitly ban hotel stays.

The emergency orders have exceptions for essential workers and people on long-term stays. Several hotels, however, have opted to temporarily close because of the decline in business as the government restriction’s to prevent the spread of the virus tightened.

While the lodging association has not issued a legal challenge, it has reached out to local governments. Jason Brandt, the association’s CEO, said the point is not to promote tourism, but to ensure hotel owners have flexibility to house essential workers if necessary.

“We’re a little worried that it’s shortsighted, given what the industry is doing to pivot to be there for health care professionals, and (provide) needed shelter for those who are still providing essential work in their local economies,” he said.

The lodging association is working with the American Hotel and Lodging Association’s Hotels for Hope, an online booking site helping medical workers, people facing quarantine and vulnerable populations needing shelter find vacant rooms. The initiative includes more than 160 lodgings in Oregon, including three in Astoria and four in Seaside.

Businesses with workers not covered by Gov. Kate Brown’s order to stay at home could send people into the field, where they would need places to stay, Brandt said.

He reached out to Clatsop County, whose ban mostly covers vacation rentals outside cities that have declared emergencies. The county’s order includes exceptions for people staying longer than 30 days, locals who are quarantining and “for travel as directed by an employer.”

“The county is not requiring specific documentation,” County Manager Don Bohn said of determining essential workers. “The lodging establishments are addressing (this) on a case-by-case basis. Most often, the lodging is paid directly by the employer.”

One outlier is Seaside. The city declared an emergency, restricted access to the beach and other public facilities and ordered vacationers home, but left hotels to decide who can stay.

Jon Rahl, a city spokesman, said it’s a difficult balance.

“They’re open, providing lodging for essential services,” Rahl said of hotels. “Could they be providing lodging to a leisure visitor? They’re telling us that they’re putting a halt to that.”

Online booking sites still allow rooms to be reserved in Seaside for any date with vacancies. But employees contacted at several local hotels said they are only accepting people in town on essential business and canceling all other bookings made online or in person.

Seaside hotelier Masudur Khan, a board member of the lodging association, said he has been shutting down several properties, keeping open the City Center Motel for his employees and construction workers on another hotel he is building. He has also offered up the Coast River Inn for coronavirus patients needing quarantine.

“Hotels should be open for people who call in and show their company information,” Khan said.

Brandt said he was reassured by his conversation with the county.

“My takeaway is that we are on the same page in making sure leisure travel at a time like this is mitigated, while making sure essential workers on the front lines have access to accommodations they need,” he said. “Lodging operations will be an important extension of the fight against COVID-19 in the weeks to come.”

Edward Stratton is a reporter for The Astorian. Contact him at 971-704-1719 or estratton@dailyastorian.com.

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