Across the United States, cases of COVID-19 are rising, including right here in Ohio. Some attribute the numbers to more testing, but experts say it’s more likely due to an uptick in social gatherings, businesses reopening and vacationers returning home.
Traveling is a trademark of summer. And the thought of postponing long-awaited plans after a spring spent cooped up at home is cringeworthy. But if your vacation could put you and others at risk, it may not be worth it.
We asked OhioHealth’s system medical director of Infectious Diseases Joseph Gastaldo, MD, whether he thinks it’s safe to sightsee this summer or if it’s smarter to plan a staycation. He shared this advice, along with tips for those determined to stick to their plans.
Should you travel during the COVID-19 pandemic?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Ohio Department of Health still recommend people stay home. Cases of COVID-19 have been reported in every state, and the situation evolves daily. Traveling increases your chances of getting infected and spreading the virus. You could even get stuck in quarantine upon your arrival or when you return home!
Gastaldo agrees with the recommendation. He says there are too many wild cards right now that could disrupt your travel plans or increase your risk of getting yourself and others sick. But if you’re set on traveling despite the risks, taking these precautions can help keep you safer.
Preparing for your vacation
- Pick your travel season and destination carefully. Before booking and traveling, be sure to check the United States Department of State’s travel advisories. The department still doesn’t recommend overseas travel, and some countries are not allowing American visitors.
- Do your research! Some states (especially popular vacation destinations) are now considered COVID-19 hot spots. New regulations (some with fines) are quickly appearing to help stop the spread. Check city, county, state and private corporation rules for travel, quarantine and face coverings. You need to know what to expect in every place you will stay and when you return home. The last thing you want to find out when you reach your destination is that you’ll have to spend your vacation in quarantine!
- Map out your route and be sure you know the risk of stopping or staying in certain counties along the way. The Harvard Global Health Institute created a color-coded county map of the United States to help you quickly see which areas of the country are high risk. Avoid these places if possible.
- Plan your gas and bathroom breaks. You can download apps to find the cleanest bathrooms. Look for family-style restrooms or those you can use by yourself.
- If you’re flying, do your best to find out how the airports and airlines you will use are maintaining safety. Expect a lot of unknowns: How much time do you now need for check-in and security checkpoints? How close will your seat be to other passengers? If you get sick, can you get a ticket refund? Will the airport be too crowded for proper social distancing?
- Find out as much as you can about the places you will visit. Note which stores or restaurants have safety measures in place, and how to get around without using public transportation.
- Pack plenty of disinfectant and hand sanitizer, and keep them with you at all times. It may be hard to find these items once you reach your destination.
- Check if your destination requires a COVID-19 test. Some states and countries require proof of a negative test result within a short time frame before your arrival.
During your vacation
- Wear a face covering in public at all times. There is new evidence suggesting that masks protect the wearer even more than previously thought. It is also a courtesy to others around you.
- If you’re driving, don’t get out of the car unless you need to. Pack snacks and drinks so you won’t have to stop for food. If you use a drive-through, wear a face covering.
- Pay at the pump and sanitize your hands afterward.
- Choose rentals over hotels. Choosing a rental means only you and your guests will be entering and leaving your house or room. If you stay in a hotel, skip the room service to keep outside visitors away.
- Disinfect high-touch surfaces. If you’re staying in a clean place, you shouldn’t need to bring your own towels or bedding. But you should wipe down commonly used items and surfaces just to be safe, like counters, doorknobs, light switches and TV remotes.
- Make your own meals or choose delivery or pick-up. Consider having groceries delivered.
- Go cashless. Use Apple or Android Pay if you can and choose credit cards over cash.
- Stay outdoors as much as possible. It’s riskier to spend time inside confined spaces where air flow is minimized.
- Avoid crowds. The more people there are in a location, the harder it is maintain a 6-foot distance from others.
- Pay attention to noise level. The louder you and others have to talk to be heard, the more likely you are to transmit the virus.
- If you will be visiting the beach or spending time in pools, check the CDC’s list of recommendations before you go. Wear a mask, even if you’re just lounging, when you can’t maintain a 6-foot distance between you and others.
After your vacation
- If you start to feel any symptoms (not just fever), stay home from work and contact your primary care doctor.
- Assess the risk level of those you may come into contact with immediately after returning. You may want to wait a couple of weeks before spending time with family and friends who did not travel with you, or people you know with immunosuppressive conditions.
And always, always, always …
Wash your hands, sanitize, disinfect high-touch surfaces and wear a face covering over your nose and mouth. If you don’t have a mask, you can wear a scarf or neck gaiter. All of these steps work synergistically to prevent the spread of COVID-19.