Even with COVID-19 surging across the country, many people are still hoping to travel or go home for the holidays. But is it safe?
The CDC has advised that travel may increase your chances of not only getting COVID-19 yourself, but of spreading it to other travelers and your loved ones. Remember, you can be contagious and spread the virus for up to 14 days after exposure, even if you don’t feel sick. The CDC recommended, as of mid-November, to postpone travel and stay home as the best way to protect yourself and others this year.
But staying home isn’t always an option, and many people will head out of town this year, in spite of COVID-19. If you do decide to travel or visit loved ones over the holidays, here’s what you need to know to minimize your risk.
Is it safe to travel during COVID-19?
Whether you’ll be driving for a few hours or flying across an ocean, there are some things all travelers should do for safer travel this holiday season.
First, do some research before your trip.
Research COVID-19 Cases Ahead of Trip
Check the active COVID-19 cases the state you’ll be visiting. If positive cases are surging in the area where you’ll be traveling, consider postponing the trip, or take extra precautions. Also find out if there are any specific requirements or restrictions that might be in place in the city and state you’ll be visiting, so you can be sure to be in compliance with quarantines, masking laws, and other rules.
Take Precautions Seriously When Traveling
Be sure to take all necessary precautions while in transit and at your destination, including wearing a mask in public, avoiding close contact with others, and washing your hands frequently, or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
Be Smart When In Larger Gatherings
Even if you’re in the mood to celebrate, avoid high risk activities, especially large indoor gatherings where people are not wearing masks, including weddings, parties, concerts, sporting events, and crowded venues like bars and restaurants. Stay in as much as possible, and visit with your loved ones safely, by wearing masks, staying outside if possible, and staying six feet apart.
Pay Attention To Your Body and Symptoms
If you feel sick, have a temperature, or have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 in the last 14 days, don’t go. Stay home, and contact your health care provider to get tested.
And if you or someone you live with is at increased risk of severe COVID-19, reconsider traveling, or take extra steps to reduce your risk.
How to Travel Safely By Car During COVID-19
If you’re hitting the road in your own car and traveling with members of your household, you can avoid some of the safety concerns facing travelers, but you should still take precautions with road trips during COVID-19.
Make sure your car and tires are in good working order, to reduce the risk of breaking down along the way. Gas up before you go, and consider bringing your own food, water, and snacks to minimize stops.
If you do have to stop while traveling during COVID-19, here’s how to reduce your risk:
Wear a mask anywhere you come into contact with others, including gas stations, restaurants, and convenience stores.
Wash your hands
Wash your hands for 20 seconds after visiting public bathrooms and rest stops.
The CDC recommends cleaning gas pump handles and buttons with disinfecting wipes, and using a hand sanitizer after filling up.
If you do stop for food, look for restaurants with drive-through or curbside pickup options.
While it’s a good idea to make the trip with as few stops as possible, remember that drowsy driving can also be dangerous and is a common cause of accidents. So don’t push yourself, and stop for a rest if you start feeling distracted or tired.
How to Travel Safely By Plane During COVID-19
The good news: your risk of exposure on an airplane is lower than you think. Thanks to air circulation and filtration technology, viruses don’t spread easily on modern aircraft. A recent study by the Department of Defense found that the risk of aerosol exposure was “minimal” even on long-distance flights, if passengers are wearing masks.
That said, you can take steps to make air travel safer during COVID-19.
The highest risk of exposure on a plane is from the people sitting in your row. Look for airlines that are keeping middle seats open, and if the plane isn’t full, consider asking a flight attendant if you can move to an empty row.
Wear a Mask
Most airlines now require passengers and crew to wear masks, so if your seatmate is not wearing a face covering, or is wearing it improperly, don’t be afraid to speak up or ask a flight attendant to intervene. You can also turn on the air vent directly above your seat to blow air on you and keep air circulating during the flight.
Avoid Airplane Toilets
Use the bathroom before you get on the plane. If you’re on a longer flight and can’t avoid a bathroom break, keep your mask on while you’re in the toilet, in case the previous person coughed or sneezed in the cubicle.
Sanitize Your Space
Finally, wiping down your seat area with sanitizing wipes can reduce the risk of touching a contaminated surface.
Always Practice Common Sense When Traveling
Remember that if you get exposed to COVID-19 on your trip, you might not have symptoms right away, but you can still be contagious for 14 days after you get back. Stay home if you can, and if you share a household with someone at high risk, try to isolate them within your home, to reduce the risk of spreading the virus. Be extra vigilant about masking and washing hands, and monitor your health for possible symptoms.
Remember that the best way to avoid getting COVID-19 this holiday season is to stay home. But if you do decide to visit loved ones, or if travel is unavoidable, there are things you can do to reduce the risk. By being informed, wearing a mask, avoiding close contact, and washing your hands, you’re taking steps to make it to your destination and back COVID-free.
Ilima Loomis is a freelance writer and journalist who specializes in writing about health care, HR, science, travel, and Hawaii. You can find more of her work at ilimaloomis.com. Ilima is a regular contributor to the RxSaver blog.
The information on this site is generalized and is not medical advice. It is intended to supplement, not substitute for, the expertise and judgment of your healthcare professional. Always seek the advice of your healthcare professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard seeking advice or delay in seeking treatment because of something you have read on our site. RxSaver makes no warranty as to the accuracy, reliability or completeness of this information.
If you are in crisis or you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately.
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