Is It Safe to Travel This Summer?

Vivian Jones, M.D., Family Medicine

As we usher in summer, many whose travel plans got uprooted last year may be looking forward to traveling this year, especially as COVID vaccines are being administered to more and more people and pandemic fatigue is setting in. But there’s still the question of if it’s safe to travel again. While the CDC still cautions against traveling for nonessential reasons, there are precautions you can take if your summer plans including getting away.

“I can certainly empathize with pandemic fatigue,” says Vivian Jones, M.D., a family medicine physician on the medical staff at Texas Health Plano and at Texas Health Family Care, a Texas Health Physicians Group practice. “My family and I are also making decisions right now regarding our own summer plans. The good news is that there are many precautions individuals can take to try to travel more safely.”

 

Considerations Before Traveling

Since travel increases your chance of spreading and contracting COVID-19, it’s important to go over some considerations before heading out the door, especially if you or someone in your family is at high risk of severe complications from COVID-19.

A few questions the CDC recommends you ask yourself before traveling include:

  • Are hospitals in your community or your destination overwhelmed with patients who have COVID-19? To find out, check state, territorial, and local department websites.
  • Does your home or destination have requirements or restrictions for travelers? Check state, territorial, and local requirements before you travel.
  • Does your home or destination have a known spread of variant COVID-19 strains?
  • During the 14 days before your travel, have you or those you are visiting had close contact with people they don’t live with?
  • Do your plans include traveling by bus, train, or air, which might make staying 6 feet apart difficult?
  • Are you traveling with people who don’t live with you?

If you can answer “yes,” to any of these questions, the CDC recommends delaying your travel.

You should also consider the following, especially if your reason for travel includes these activities or events:

  • Going to a large social gathering like a wedding, funeral, or party.
  • Attending a mass gathering like a sporting event, concert, or parade.
  • Being in crowds like in restaurants, bars, fitness centers, or movie theaters.
  • Taking public transportation like planes, trains, or buses, or being in transportation hubs like airports.
  • Traveling on a cruise ship or riverboat.

 

How to Travel as Safely as Possible

If you’ve just gotta get away, Jones says even if your destination or mode of travel does not require a negative COVID-19 test prior to arrival, you should still get tested 14 days before travel. But even if you receive a negative test result, it’s important to remember that the test is simply a snapshot of a very specific window of time, which is why it’s also important to stay isolated during those two weeks and get tested again 1 to 3 days prior to your trip to make sure. Even then, you still stand the risk of becoming infected during your travels.

“One thing people may overlook and not fully anticipate is the ability to spread the virus to others once you have received a negative COVID-19 test result,” Jones explains. “It is possible that the test sample may have been collected too early in one’s infection or that one can be exposed to COVID after the test and subsequently become infected. For that reason, some travel destinations may require additional testing or quarantining measures after you arrive.”

If you test negative before traveling, keep a copy of your test results with you during travel and continue to take precautions to protect yourself and others from getting COVID-19. If you test positive or develop symptoms, do not travel, immediately isolate yourself and follow all public health recommendations.

It’s also important to note that all air passengers coming to the United States, including U.S. citizens, are required to have a negative COVID-19 test result or documentation of recovery from COVID-19 before they board a flight to the United States.

The United States does require that masks be worn on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation traveling, into, within, or out of the U.S., as well as in transportation hubs such as bus or train stations and airports.

If you can travel by private modes of transportation, such as a personal vehicle, this mode should be prioritized due to the lower risk of infection. To lower risk even more, it’s recommended that you make as few stops along the way – only stopping for essentials such as bathroom breaks, gas and getting food.

While you may be in vacation mode, COVID-19 does not take a vacation, unfortunately. So it’s imperative that you continue to follow measures and precautions to keep you, your group and others safe.

“Don’t forget that frequent handwashing is still recommended and helps to reduce virus transmission,” Jones adds “Wear your mask and practice social distancing, especially while indoors. If you are indoors, choose locations that provide good ventilation. Remember, the more precautions you take, the more you can protect yourself and others from COVID-19!”

 

Stay Safe After Coming Home, Too

Once you come back home, even if it’s not required, it’s best to get tested with a viral test 3 to 5 days after arrival and self-quarantining for a full 7 days, even if you feel well and don’t have symptoms. If you receive a negative test result during your 7-day quarantine, you should still finish out the full 7 days. If you test positive, isolate yourself to protect others from getting sick and seek treatment or medical advice from a trusted health care professional.

If you decide to not get tested or do not have access to testing services, stay home and self-quarantine for 10 days after travel.

 

The Takeaway

Even though we may have grown accustomed to our new normal, and may be going a little stir crazy, traveling is still considered a high-risk activity and should only be done if absolutely necessary. If you have received your COVID-19 vaccine(s), while you do have protection from getting severely ill from the virus, it is not 100%, and there is still the chance that you can become infected with the virus and spread it to those who have not had the opportunity to get vaccinated. For those reasons, that’s why traveling is still not recommended, even for those who have been vaccinated.

That being said, if you choose to travel, Jones says it’s best to do your research first and consider traveling to places with a low risk or doing low-risk activities.

“Check out travel requirements for your final destination, plan for lower-risk leisure activities while vacationing that help you to avoid crowds and consider lodging arrangements that help make social distancing easier,” she adds. “Determine your personal risk and discuss with your Primary Care Provider specific precautions you may need to take.”

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