While globetrotting may not be on the cards this summer, there are still plenty of ways to enjoy a getaway while protecting yourself from coronavirus. Dr Ole Vielemeyer, medical director of Infectious Disease Associates and Travel Medicine at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center and associate professor of clinical medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine, shares his tips in Health Matters on how to stay safe while traveling during the coronavirus outbreak:
Keep it simple
Take a trip that is direct and door-to-door if possible; avoid a lot of different means of transportation or transfers. For example, traveling by car during COVID-19 will likely be the safest, so look for destinations within driving distance. Get on a plane only if you need to visit family or if it’s an emergency. If you must fly, keep in mind that a nonstop flight is safer than one with layovers, because of fewer chances of being exposed to the virus. Another advantage of taking a car is that after you reach your destination you can use it on local excursions. Regardless, choose local activities that do not require public transportation, and opt for walks and bike rides.
Road trip tips
Airlines have started to adjust to the reality of COVID-19. If you’re planning to fly, check if your airline has measures in place to allow for social distancing when possible, enforces face mask use, and provides ample access to hand sanitisers or handwashing.
Remember that the air on an airplane is quite clean due to industry standards and regulations requiring air circulation and HEPA filters. Therefore, airborne transmission of viruses and other germs is rare, similar to being outdoors. However, the difficulty to social distance on airplanes raises the chance of coronavirus transmission through an infected person’s respiratory droplets. Transmission from touching contaminated surfaces is also possible. So it’s important to wear a face mask that fits well, limit how much you touch objects, and frequently clean your hands.
Remember, traveling to the airport during the coronavirus outbreak, and the time you spend in an airport during check-in, security checks, boarding, and baggage retrieval may well be riskier than the actual flight itself, so don’t forget about taking precautions on every leg of your travel.
Where to stay
When you choose lodging, opt for a place where air can circulate through open windows. Or stay outdoors – camping is a great idea. A room with a terrace or balcony would also be good. Seek accommodations that let you open the windows wide.
Hotels with good quality air conditioning and proper filtration systems are adequate options, but are ultimately less predictable than an open window and a balcony or terrace. Establishments will thoroughly clean the rooms, and as long as you have natural air flow, wash your hands, and avoid touching your face — especially mouth and eyes — you won’t be at great risk.
When outdoors, especially if the air is moving, risk of transmission is low. Walks along the beach, a day hike in the hills or mountains, a bike ride — these are great low-risk activities. Plus, you will be amazed by how nature can recharge your batteries when you allow yourself to slow down.
Most transmission of respiratory viruses happens indoors, so avoid activities like eating inside a restaurant, especially if it is crowded. If there are tables outside, pick those. No matter what the activity, being outdoors is always better than being cooped up inside.
Travel and testing
Testing before and after travel can reduce the risk of spreading. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends getting tested with a viral test one to three days before your trip. Delay travel if you’re waiting for test results. Keep a copy of your results with you when you travel.
Repeat the test three to five days after your trip. Even if you test negative, reduce nonessential activities for seven days. If you don’t get tested, reduce nonessential activities for 10 days. If at any point you test positive, stay home. Immediately isolate yourself and follow public health recommendations.
Check local restrictions
Some state, local and territorial governments have requirements, such as requiring people to wear masks and requiring those who recently traveled to stay home for up to 14 days. Save yourself unpleasant surprises and delays by checking for restrictions at your destination and anywhere you might stop along the way.
State and local health department websites are your best resource. Keep in mind that restrictions can change rapidly, depending on local conditions. Check back for updates as your trip gets closer.
Air travel might not be for you. You may prefer to drive, which also gives you more control over your environment. You’ll still need to be smart about any stops you make, but that just takes some planning. Here are things to consider before you hit the road:
Stay safe when you travel
Following these steps to protect yourself and others when you travel:
When it’s time to pack for your trip, grab any medicines you may need on your trip and these essential safe-travel supplies: