How to Vacation Safely This Summer

by Glenn W. Wortmann, Section Director, Infectious Diseases
July 15, 2020

Traveling by plane, train, or automobile isn’t what it used to be. With so many of us wanting to enjoy the beaches or visit family around the country, we need to be alert about avoiding an uninvited guest—coronavirus.

A lot of people are asking: Can I travel during this pandemic? As a general rule of thumb, the answer is “yes,” but you should minimize the number of people with whom you interact. Avoid large groups. Seek a less crowded part of the beach if you can. Travel in your own car as opposed to a bus.

About Family Gatherings

It’s natural to want to enjoy time with family during these warm summer months. However, it’s critical that we take precautions around vulnerable family members. These include grandparents, aging aunts and uncles, and anyone with weakened immune systems or medical conditions.

Here’s something you should know: A small percentage of people are testing positive for COVID-19 without displaying any symptoms. It’s important to be aware of the fact that people can be sick but not seem to be. This means you and your family could unknowingly be at risk for catching—or spreading—the disease wherever you go.

So, even if you’re feeling well and don’t display any symptoms, take extra precautions when visiting those at higher risk. Wear masks and be diligent about washing your hands when you’re in others’ homes. The risk of a well person transmitting the virus while wearing masks and practicing physical distancing is low, but it’s not zero.

If you’re hosting or attending a family get-together, do what you can to stay six feet apart from each other. Try to gather outside. Separate the chairs around the grill. Don’t engage in contact sports.

Precautions Before Traveling

  • Consider testing: If you’re going to visit someone who is at high risk of developing complications from COVID-19 infection (such as an older person or someone with underlying health problems), you could consider getting tested five to six days before traveling. Some of the firehouses in Washington, D.C. offer free testing. If you’re exposed to somebody who has the coronavirus, it’s recommended that you quarantine at home for 10 to 14 days before your trip. Exposure is the key here. The risk of acquiring COVID-19 after a brief interaction is relatively low. On the other hand, if you’re indoors with somebody for an hour, the risk is much higher—which means you definitely need to quarantine.
  • Prepare a virus protection kit: If you must travel, make sure you pack a COVID-19 kit that includes face masks, wipes, and hand sanitizer to help you reduce the risk of exposure to the virus.
    • Cloth or single-use face masks must cover your mouth and nose.
    • Bring disinfecting wipes and wipe down high-touch surfaces like bathroom toilet and faucet handles, doorknobs, the phone, TV remote—and don’t forget your cell phone.
    • A hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol or 70% isopropyl alcohol is a must for those times when you can’t wash your hands.
    • Travel-sized laundry detergent will help keep your cloth masks clean.
    • In general, gloves aren’t recommended for routine use. It’s better to just wash your hands periodically. However, packing a set of latex gloves to use in case someone becomes sick is reasonable.
    • Nonperishable snacks and water may come in handy if restaurants are closed during your travel.
  • Go online: Check out the health department website of the location you plan to visit and get an idea of conditions in that location. Personally, I would have second thoughts about visiting states that are COVID-19 hotspots right now.
  • Contact your doctor: If someone in your family has a fever or other marker of the disease a day or two before your trip, call your doctor. He or she might suggest you come in for testing. Some people get very sick from this virus, and you wouldn’t want to be in a location far from home if you’re affected.
Infectious diseases expert Dr. Glenn Wortmann recommends having a #COVID19 kit that includes face masks, wipes, and hand sanitizer if you travel. #TogetherApart https://bit.ly/3gJh1KC via @MedStarWHC
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Precautions While Traveling

  • Air travel: The first concern is the airport. That’s a lot of people interacting indoors where the virus can be transmitted through droplets. Then there’s the airplane itself. If you consider that 1%–3% of people in general carry the virus and there are 100 people on the plane, the risk is that one to three of your fellow passengers are infected. The risk is relatively low if everybody’s wearing a mask—and I recommend staying masked for the entire flight. Still, I would think carefully about how much I want to fly versus going somewhere I can drive.
  • Hotels/motels: I actually had to travel recently and can share my personal experience. The rest stops along the New Jersey Turnpike had physical distancing measures, and the hotel I stayed at was very good. They had markers to assure you stayed six feet away from the other person in the check-in line. Check-in was quite fast because the hotel staff wanted to get you to your room as quickly as possible. There was no indoor dining—only room service. I think most hotels are moving in this direction, although every place has different standards of cleanliness.
  • At the pool or beach: The risk of acquiring COVID-19 from an outdoor environment appears to be very low. The virus is dispersed quickly in the breeze. Also there is no evidence that it can survive in a body of water. So, going to a pool or beach is potentially safer than being in a closed room for a long period of time. That said, I wouldn’t go to a beach where people are packed towel-to-towel. If you’re on a crowded beach, the CDC recommends wearing a mask. Use common sense and set up your beach blanket in a less populated area, trying to stay six feet away from others.
  • In your RV: Recreational vehicles are a great way to travel safely. You’re in your own space and don’t have some of the concerns that come with other forms of transportation.
  • Telehealth: If you’re feeling ill during your travels, you could probably seek out an out-of-town doctor in your insurance network to evaluate you. But you may find it easier and more reassuring to have a telehealth visit with your own doctor, which can be done using your cell phone. Remember, coronavirus is not the only threat out there: check with your provider for an accurate diagnosis.
  • Kids, toddlers, and babies: Children can definitely contract the coronavirus. Although they appear less at risk of severe disease, it unfortunately happens. My children are grown, but if I had young kids, I would definitely put a mask on them, and try to separate them from large groups. Newborns and toddlers are a different story. You can’t really mask them, but you can make a conscious effort not to let everyone hold them, so they aren’t exposed to a virus carrier who doesn’t show symptoms.

Be Safe and Enjoy Your Summer

I know these last few months have been difficult and everyone wants to get outside and enjoy the summer weather. Just make sure your safety and the safety of those around you is top of mind. Wear your mask. Stay six feet apart from others. Wash your hands frequently. These small steps can make a big difference.

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Category: Healthy Living, In the News     Tags: Id-1qtraveling and pandemicvacations and covid-19