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Safe journey

17 Jan 2021

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

  • Choose an off-peak time to travel. Don’t leave on a Friday, when public rest stops will be more crowded.
  • Bring your own drinks and snacks to avoid standing in queues.
  • Wear a mask when you are close to others.
  • Keep wipes and hand sanitisers on you at all times.
  • What to know about flying

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.

Get outside

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.

Car travel

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:

  • Plan to make as few stops as possible, but stop driving if you become drowsy.
  • Be sure to pack cloth face masks, hand sanitiser and disinfectant wipes in an easily accessible spot so that you can use them during the trip as necessary.
  • Prepare food and water to take on the trip. Consider including nonperishable items to tide you over in case access to restaurants and grocery stores is limited.
  • If you choose to pick up a meal on the road, opt for restaurants that offer drive-thru or curbside service.




Stay safe when you travel

Following these steps to protect yourself and others when you travel:

  • Maintain a distance of 2m between you and others as much as possible.
  • Avoid contact with anyone who is sick
  • Limit contact with frequently touched surfaces, such as handrails, elevator buttons and kiosks. If you must touch these surfaces, use a hand sanitiser or wash your hands afterward.
  • Wear a cloth face mask.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Cover coughs and sneezes.
  • Clean your hands often. It’s especially important after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water aren’t available, use a hand sanitiser that contains at least 60% alcohol. Cover all surfaces of your hands and rub your hands together 
  • Make a packing list

When it’s time to pack for your trip, grab any medicines you may need on your trip and these essential safe-travel supplies:

  • Cloth face masks
  • Alcohol-based hand sanitiser (at least 60% alcohol)
  • Disinfectant wipes (at least 70% alcohol) for surfaces
  • Thermometeruntil they feel dry.


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