By Gregg Bragg, The Island Connection Sr Staff Writer
The May 14 Council meeting of the Town of Kiawah Island opened with the now customary look of the Hollywood Squares game show. Although Council member Chris Widuch occupied the center square historically occupied by Paul Lynde, there wasn’t much fooling about in this, the age of COVID-19. Mayor Craig Weaver – top-center square – went straight to work on the glut of ramifications in a deceptively thin agenda, starting with the issue of shortterm rentals.
Weaver noted that 1,350 property owners who rent their homes combine to be the single biggest business on the island. The mayor labored through a maze of corollaries that the Council considered before deciding between passing an official ordinance or only a simple resolution ratifying a set of guidelines proffered by the Medical University of South Carolina. Council spent time with local businesses, including the larger rental agencies on the island, observed that Isle of Palms has passed an ordinance that could be a model for other coastal communities and reviewed the measures advanced by lessor known rental outlets like Airbnb and VRBO.
The guidelines advanced by MUSC, as well as the Centers for Disease Control and the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, as described on the Town’s website are:
- Clean thoroughly between guests. Ensure that the short-term rental property is cleaned prior to every rental by following, at minimum, recommended MUSC guidelines for the cleaning and sanitation of rental properties during this pandemic.
- Use effective cleaning products and procedures. Either post in the property or provide to renters at the time of check-in a summary description of the cleaning and sanitizing procedures being followed. If you’re using a cleaning service, please confirm that they’re using the suggested methods and products.
- Allow sufficient time between rentals. It is encouraged, especially when it cannot reliably be ensured that enhanced cleaning protocols can be followed, to allow 24 hours between rental departures and arrivals to reduce the potential for the contamination of the property by the active COVID-19 virus. If a check-in occurs within 24 hours, inform the arriving guests of the date and time of the last rental.
- Properly train personnel or contract workers. Ensure all persons (direct employees and contracted service providers) directly associated with cleaning or servicing of the short-term rental property and/or providing associated services (check-in, pool maintenance, bike rental, etc.) are adequately trained and follow proper health checks.
- Social distancing. Short-term rental property owners or their authorized agents should notify renters via email, rental website, or posting inside the rental the guidelines on social distancing when on the beach, at retail stores and Harris Teeter, and on the shared use bike paths.
- Guests with COVID-19-like symptoms.
If they feel sick with possible COVID-19 symptoms, they should seek evaluation for COVID-19 and be tested if testing is recommended. If determined to be positive, they should self-report to the rental owner or manager and follow the recommendation of their physician, which could include vacating the property or self-quarantine.
Weaver questioned the advisability of endorsing a waiting period between rentals. The mayor then turned to Widuch, who took the lead on a more detailed breakout of these discussions with help from Town Administrator Stephanie Tillerson.
Widuch indicated that a 24-hour window between rentals is cumbersome to the Saturday-Saturday rental pattern and concluded it is prudent to promote guidelines to responsible actors/owners. He also noted that Airbnb is much stricter about the 24 hour gap between rentals than much of the online market. Council members Dan Prickett, Klaus Said and Maryanne Connelly all agreed a resolution was the best way to go.
Coastal communities in the Lowcountry have struggled to balance protecting their residents and businesses while complying with federal, state and county recommendations. There have been several instances when local administrations have drawn fire for being too hot or too cold in their interpretation and implementation of regulations that are “just right.”
Charleston County threatened to sue Folly Beach for closing its island to nonresidents. There was some waffling, but ultimately the Folly Beach Council decided to risk the suit. The logic seemed to be that by the time the case comes to court, the crises will have passed. IOP, meanwhile, was threatened with a similar suit by County Council Chairman Elliott Summey. Consequently, there was no surprise when Weaver asked for legal advice from the Town’s attorney, Joe Wilson.
A barely audible Wilson concurred that while there was little difference between the options, the resolution was the better route. A smattering of discussion followed Wilson’s contribution, but the motion was made and Resolution 2020-02 passed unanimously.
The remainder of the meeting was spent discussing whether to test residents for the COVID-19 antibody with the help of MUSC. The test, which “can indicate whether an individual has been exposed to COVID-19 and has developed antibodies to the virus, will be an important tool to help communities and their citizens understand the prevalence of the COVID-19 virus in their community. The Town arranged with MUSC to offer this test to Kiawah Island residents. Testing will be conducted at the Kiawah Island Golf Resort’s new West Beach Conference Center on Monday, May 18 through Wednesday, May 20,” read part of an announcement from the Town.
The mayor concluded the topic by saying this was “not a one and done visit,” by MUSC, and that if there was a large unmet demand for the tests among residents, another visit was possible.