As Coronavirus Empties Short-Term Rentals, Owners Offer Their Spaces To COVID-19 Responders

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Nolan Blunck/Crested Butte News
Sasa Watt in front of one of her Crested Butte her rentals that she is making available for free to COVID-19 responders or their families.

Health care workers on the front lines of the new coronavirus face a particular challenge at home — because of their constant exposure, they may be a risk to loved ones. Many have tried to find ways to isolate themselves or their family right now.

That’s true for Shannon and Steph Shrieves of Gunnison.

Shannon is a carpenter and has a respiratory condition that makes him particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. Steph works at Montrose Memorial Hospital. While she doesn’t work directly with COVID-19 patients, “she was worried that if she is a carrier that it could be passed on to me,” Shannon said.

The couple decided they had to start making a plan to physically separate during the outbreak. Something affordable.

“I was willing to set up a tent or try to borrow a camper from a friend or something,” Shannon said.

Then he saw a cottage in Crested Butte listed for free.

Sasa Watt of Crested Butte owns Cloud Cottages, which includes two short-term vacation rental units and one long-term rental unit. Like other mountain communities, Gunnison County has blocked these kinds of rentals, ordering tourists out of the county during the pandemic.

“Oh man, they’re super empty and sad,” Watt said. Then it dawned on her:  “I can help. I can provide housing for people who need it because it’s not costing me anymore to do it.”

She decided to offer the units for free to people on the front lines who needed to distance themselves from exposure to the virus.

About 16 percent of the homes in Crested Butte are vacation rentals. Under Gunnison County’s current travel restrictions, those units should mostly be vacant, unless renters are fulfilling roles in essential services.

Watt said she wants to be part of the community-wide solution.

“If you can help out the community by offering housing, I would do it,” Watt said. “It’s not going to hurt anything.  You can vet people and make sure they are a legitimate person who has tested positive, and need a place or it’s their family… There [are] ways to go about it to make sure that the person isn’t trying to scam you and stay in your house.”

Watt didn’t know it when she started this, but Airbnb is actively working with its hosts to connect them to COVID-19 responders who need free or low-cost housing. It has set up a website where hosts can offer places and responders can sign up. Airbnb said 100,000 hosts are involved so far worldwide, and about 1,100 are in Colorado.

After Watt posted her cottages for free, Brittany Rogers of Gunnison-based cleaning service Couture Cleaning reached out to offer free cleaning services to the units. Rogers was a certified nurse’s assistant before she started her cleaning business and will wear personal protective equipment like masks and gloves to clean Watt’s homes.

“It would behoove us to let it sit for 24 hours to let it die. The worst surface it lives on is metal, so we’re extremely cautious about that,” she said.

Rogers also says that if cleaning is her way of helping in the fight, “…why not help out in that way?”

Shannon Shrieves said he and his wife manage to see each other when she’s off work — from a distance.

“We still FaceTime. We’ve met up but we both wear masks, and we haven’t touched," Shannon said.

That a stranger offered a safe place for free feels surreal to Shannon.

“This experience has shown me that our community really does care about each other,” he said.