Airbnb: Some Sonoma County vacation rentals skirt shelter-in-place guidelines amid COVID-19

GUERNEVILLE, Calif. (KGO) -- It was a superficially perfect day along the Russian River in Sonoma County Friday -- a favorite vacation spot now shaded by the unseeable dark cloud of a pandemic.

"I stay right here," said Wendell Joost of Guerneville. "I go out to walk the dog. That's it."

It's a foreign concept for tourism to not be welcome along the Russian River, but these are strange times.

During the coronavirus outbreak, Sonoma County has deemed hotels, motels and vacation rentals by owners to be non-essential businesses, but that has not stopped some people from trying to make a buck.

You'll see the evidence at Airbnb.com.

Some properties now offer "pandemic discounts" and "quarantine-ready accommodations."

ABC7 News found those among some 300 rentals available Friday in Sonoma County, despite the restrictions.

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"Unfortunately, they are not compliant with our public health order," said Sonoma County Supervisor Lynda Hopkins.

She's ready for enforcement.

"If we wind up with a situation in Sonoma County like what we are seeing in New York City, out healthcare will become derailed and people who don't need to will die," she said.

Sonoma County suffered disproportionately from outsiders during the Spanish Flu pandemic 102 years ago.

We should note that the majority of VRBO's have not used the pandemic as a marketing device.

Some get around the guidelines by saying they're available for essential workers.

Others, like Wendi Qi took the high road and by taking their Duncan Mills property off the market completely.

"I think it's really tough for some people, but it seemed like the right thing to do," said Qi. "We would love to have it open but we feel we just can't right now."

The marketing is particularly irksome to Jeff Bridges in Guerneville.

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He spent eight months and more than a million dollars bringing back his R3 hotel after last winter's floods and remains closed while others still advertise.

"I think it is reprehensible, " he said. "That is irresponsible if you are coming from an epicenter. That makes a lot of residents uncomfortable."

It's a feeling magnified by the uncertainty of this pandemic, which is not his first.

Now, the rest of the world is getting a small sense of the AIDS mentality.

"I wish a lot of people would have taken that more seriously," said Bridges. "A lot of my friends would still be here."

Airbnb.com com did not respond to inquiries by ABC7 News.
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