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Traveling during the COVID-19 Pandemic

November 3, 2020
Published in: COVID-19

Couple at the airport wearing masks

As the fall and winter holidays approach, families begin to plan traditional gatherings to celebrate. Most of these celebrations involve travel of some family members. Thanksgiving is the often the busiest travel weekend of the year. This year, though, is the year of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it's impacted travel and holiday plans. Planning is more complex and includes additional safety considerations. Here are some facts and tips to incorporate into your holiday travel plans.

First, a fact to remember:

Staying home is the very best way to protect yourself and others from COVID-19.

You can get COVID-19 while traveling, and in truth, traveling increases the chance of getting or spreading COVID-19. Even if you feel fine and do not have symptoms, you can spread the disease to others. Children can also spread the virus to others and become infected, too.

Do not travel if you are sick or have been exposed to COVID-19 with the past 14 days. Do not travel with someone else who is sick. There are also virtual options, such as Zoom, for including all in large family gatherings.

The CDC recommends—strongly—that everyone wear a mask on public transportation. This includes both passengers and workers. This includes airplanes, trains, ships and ferries, subways, and taxis and rideshares. This includes airports, train stations and other hubs. Many travel industry organizations have included a mask requirement as a condition of travel in their systems. While you are traveling, wear a mask.

Then, before you go:

  • Check websites to see if COVID-19 is surging or spreading at your destination. If it is, your risk of infection is higher and you should discuss that with your traveling companions and host. Is it wise to travel now?
  • Also check your destination's travel restrictions. Some states have quarantine requirements for visitors. Check your home state's restrictions, too. Will you be required to quarantine and stay home from work when you return? That could impact your plans and decision to travel.
  • Do you have a medical condition that increases your risk for severe illness or complications from COVID-19? Do you live with someone with these increased risks? If so, you should discuss with your travel companions and host. Is it wise to travel now?
  • If you do choose to travel, decrease the risk of potentially spreading COVID unintentionally by choosing low-risk activities for the 14 days before traveling. Ask others hosting or attending the gathering to do the same. For example, avoid eating in restaurants, attending large events or parties or gathering indoors with friends for two weeks before traveling.

Transportation Risk Levels

Lowest Risk
  • Staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others from COVID-19.
  • Short trips by car with members of your household with no stops along the way
More Risk
  • Longer trips by car or RV with one or more stops along the way
Even More Risk
  • Trips by car or RV with people who are not in your household
  • Long-distance train or bus trips
  • Direct flights
Highest Risk
  • Flights with layovers
  • Traveling on a cruise ship or river boat

Source: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/travel-risk.html

If you do travel:

Take the steps we've all learned to protect yourself and others from COVID-19:

  • Wear a mask that covers your mouth and nose in public and while on public transportation.
  • Stay six feet apart from those not in your household.
  • Wash your hands often or use hand sanitizer (at least 60% alcohol).
  • Avoid those who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Anticipate your travel needs:
    • Bring your own supply of masks.
    • Pack hand sanitizer and keep it within easy reach.
    • Bring any prescription medicine you take—enough for the entire trip.
    • Pack some food and water in case restaurants are closed or unavailable.
    • Bring disinfecting wipes to clean and disinfect surfaces you may touch.
  • Avoid staying in large groups in one home. Consider staying in a hotel so there are not so many who don't usually live in the same household staying together.

After returning from your trip:

Continue to be diligent about stopping spread of COVID-19. If you were exposed while on your trip, you pose a risk for 14 days. Remember, you may not have symptoms or realize you were exposed. To protect others:

  • Wear a mask that covers your mouth and nose when outside your home.
  • Stay at least six feet away from others who do not live with you. Keep this distance both indoors and outdoors.
  • Wash your hand often or use hand sanitizer (at least 60% alcohol).
  • Monitor your health and watch for symptoms of COVID-19. Take your temperature.
  • Follow any guidelines or restrictions for quarantine that are required by the state, your community or your employer.
  • Because traveling is a high risk activity, and you may have unknowingly contracted COVID, again choose low-risk activities for 14 days—just as you did before traveling.

Traveling during a pandemic is inherently risky because it involves many people, possibly crowded situations where it's difficult to maintain a six foot distance, and sharing close quarters with strangers for an extended period of time.

The holidays are a reflective, tradition-filled time that only comes once a year, so it's natural to want to celebrate and spend time with friends and family who are far away. But the holidays will come again next year—and just as important as tradition is the desire for everyone in the family be healthy and here to celebrate in 2021, too.

Stay diligent and protect those you love.

Sources

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/travel-during-covid19.html
Augusta Health Infection Prevention Staff: Allison Baroco, MD; Stefanie Bartley, RN BSN; Tracy Sansossio, RN BSN.