COVID-19 is changing many vacation and holiday plans. The disease caused by the coronavirus is highly contagious and can make traveling risky, both for you and for the communities you visit. If caught, COVID-19 can be very serious and even fatal. It’s important to take this seriously when making travel plans.
If you do have to travel, though, there are things you can do to help protect yourself from COVID-19.
Path to improved health
Pick a destination you feel comfortable with.
Different cities and states have different numbers of COVID-19 cases. If you plan to travel, make sure you are not going to an area that is seeing high numbers of these cases. Ideally, the number of positive cases that area has should steadily decline (or go down) for two weeks before you visit.
Try to select a destination that isn’t highly congested with a large number of people. Outdoor vacations away from touristy areas are ideal.
You should check on any travel restrictions and quarantine rules both in the state that you visit and in your own state. Some states may require you to quarantine yourself for 2 weeks after returning from destinations with high case numbers.
It’s also important to consider who you will be seeing when you travel. If you are visiting an elderly family member, for example, you may want to reconsider. The elderly are in the highest risk group for getting seriously ill from COVID-19. It is important you do not unknowingly spread any germs to older family members.
Decide how you want to travel.
Once you know where you’re going, you’ll have to choose how to get there. The safest method for travel right now may be driving. This is because you can control your environment best in your own car. You are responsible for cleaning it, and it’s not likely that many other people have been in it recently.
However, this may also mean you have to stay in hotels or stop at restaurants. It’s important to try to stop as little as possible. Extra stops mean extra germs. Bringing your own food or traveling short distances that don’t require hotels can help with this. However, if you do need to stop, it’s important to know where you’re going.
Check the COVID-19 policies of these places beforehand. Some important questions to ask are:
- What are the cleaning routines at this location?
- Are there any restrictions for how many people can visit at one time?
- What will you do if an employee or visitor tests positive for COVID-19?
- In a restaurant, is there an outdoor space where we can be seated away from other guests?
- In a hotel, how long has it been since someone else stayed in the room? What cleaning has taken place since then?
Always make sure to pack hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies like disinfectant wipes. Wear a mask at all times in public except when eating or drinking. Bring extra masks along with you.
Take precautions if you fly on an airplane.
On an airplane, you have less control of your environment. However, if you need to fly, there are steps you can take to lower your risk of catching COVID-19:
- Wear a mask at all times unless you are eating or drinking. This includes when you are in the airport and on the plane.
- If possible, try to choose a seat away from other people. Some airlines are blocking middle seats, but some are not. Choose an airline you feel is placing importance on precautionary measures.
- Window seats may be safer than aisle or middle seats, as you will be farther away from people passing in the aisles.
- Touch as little as possible. This includes armrests and tray tables, as well as anything in the bathrooms. Use hand sanitizer after touching anything.
- If you need to use the restroom, use a paper towel or hand wipe to touch any common surfaces, like sink or door handles.
Things to consider
It’s important to remember that COVID-19 is very serious when traveling. The most common way to get it is by inhaling respiratory droplets in the air. When a person who has COVID-19 coughs or sneezes, tiny droplets leave their mouth and nose and go into the air. If you’re within 6 feet of that person, you may breathe them in.
COVID-19 can also be shared through touching surfaces an infected person has touched. However, it is less likely you’ll catch COVID-19 this way.
Traveling increases your exposure to other people and to germs, and so it may increase your risk of getting COVID-19. Even if you think you will only have a mild case, you may also pass it along to people who are more likely to be severely affected by it. This includes people 65 years old and older and people who have health issues, such as heart disease, lung disease, or diabetes.
If possible, it may be safer to wait to take a vacation until after a COVID-19 vaccine has been approved by the FDA. Currently, there are no approved vaccines. However, several are currently in clinical trials. When the FDA has deemed that they are safe, they will be distributed first to health care workers and the high-risk population, and then to the general public.
When to see your doctor
If you experience any symptoms of COVID-19, whether before or after traveling, call your doctor immediately. COVID-19 symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath
- Repeated shaking with chills
- Muscle pain
- Sore throat
- New loss of taste or smell
If you have a weakened immune system, COVID-19 could cause pneumonia or bronchitis.
Questions to ask your doctor
- If I start to feel symptoms when traveling, who should I contact?
- Do I need to quarantine for two weeks when returning from my destination?
- Am I at risk of complications because of COVID-19?
- What other precautions can I take to avoid COVID-19 when traveling?
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.