Would you travel right now? While some people are still traveling, most are not. I have yet to get on an airplane as I feel like the risks are too high and I can’t risk exposing my family, especially my two young children, to the unknowns of coronavirus. But would doctors travel right now? We checked in with some experts across the country to find out their thoughts on traveling during this pandemic.
Dr. Nina Shapiro, author of HYPE: A Doctor’s Guide to Medical Myths and Professor at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA
Personally I don’t feel comfortable traveling right now, be it by air, train, or cruise ship. There are literally and figuratively too many moving parts in commercial travel, too many unknowns, and too many risks. For instance, air travel includes time at an airport, public restrooms, enclosed spaces, and being surrounded by so many people who can have all levels of potential to transmit Covid-19. While many people wear masks and exercise physical distance, there is no basis to know what each individual traveler, airport employee, or airline employee does during their non-work or non-travel time. Unless there is an urgent reason to fly, I am not ready to do it.
Cruises, as we already know, carry with them extremely high risks of communicable diseases. The usual bugs we’re not hearing much about these days (norovirus, and e.coli, common gastrointestinal illnesses we see on cruises) will still exist. Add in the risk of coronavirus, and it’s a big ‘no’ for me. I also think there is real concern for communities when cruise ship guests get on and off the ships. This is a concerning potential means of spreading Covid-19 to communities that may currently have relatively low numbers. As for trains, that really depends on how long the trip is, and what the physical space looks like. Private, semi-enclosed areas or sleeper berths are less concerning than people-filled areas.
I’m less concerned about hotel rooms. While covid can live on all types of surfaces, the actual likelihood of catching it from a hotel room or hotel item is extremely low. More concerning in hotels are common spaces such as elevators, restaurants, bars, or tightly-seated pool areas. If the hotel has a great deal of outdoor space, and you can minimize time in indoor public areas, this is a softer call.
Road trips are the safest way to go. Family in one car, not families from multiple homes together in an RV, is the safest way to travel these days. Ideally, stops should be planned out ahead of time, pack as much food/snacks/drinks as you can, and head to outdoor spots like national parks, state parks, less visited beaches, mountains, rivers, etc. This is the summer to enjoy the outdoors as much as possible. When staying overnight, camping, staying in a cabin, a rented home, or even a small hotel are all great options.
When planning to travel, a few additional precautions are recommended, this year as opposed to other years:
1) If someone is the least bit sick (cold, cough, fever, or stomach issue), cancel! It’s not worth the risk of spreading anything these days, and COVID comes in all shapes, sizes, ages, and health statuses.
2) Bring as much of your own products as possible, especially if you’re driving. This can include all toiletries, towels, sheets, sleeping bags, etc.
3) Bring extra wipes and hand sanitizer, a stash for each family member.
4) Bring a variety of face coverings, depending on your planned activities. Some work better for beach time, hiking, exercising, walking at night, etc.
5) Bring pain reliever and fever reducers for all family members, just in case.
6) Get some rest! These are stressful times.
7) Check the situation regarding infection rate at your destination and along the way. Reconsider if your trip is taking you to a new ‘hot spot’.
Christine Bishara, MD, an internist and founder of From Within Medical, a wellness medical practice in the NYC area.
We would definitely travel right now and did this past weekend. We stayed at a hotel in Lake George and felt pretty safe. That being said, there are certain precautions that should be taken, depending on the mode of transportation. I’ll assign them a high, medium or low risk to make it easier. Also keep in mind that many locations and states have restrictions and it’s very important to check ahead before you travel.
RELATED: Coronavirus Resource Page for Travelers
Cruise ship: High risk
I would say hold off on taking a cruise ship for now since it’s a large number of people in a confined space. If an outbreak occurs, you have no way of getting off the ship and you’re faced with an increased risk of infection. You would also be subject to a mandated 14 day quarantine.
Trains and air travel: Medium risk
Trains and air travel pose less risk than cruises, but still some risks. If one can assure that a mask will be kept on by all occupants of a train or airplane and sanitizing precautions are taken by the operator, then the likelihood of infection is low. Check with airlines and train operating companies before you travel to check on rules regarding masks and seating.
Road trips: Low risk
I think road trips might be the safest options for Americans this summer. This is because most people will be traveling with family members they have already been socially distancing with and in the comfort and safety of their own car, so the risk is low. Keep in mind that many destinations will have restrictions on the number of people as well as State imposed restrictions on who can enter. This may include your own home state that may require quarantine of those returning from certain areas. Make plans but call ahead to see what is open. I think hotels are considered safe overall if the right precautions are taken. This includes assuring that the hotel staff have changed all bedding, bathroom towels etc. I also recommend sanitizing all door knobs, and closet doors once you enter your room, along with other surfaces that may have been touched frequently such as the phone or TV remote.
Dr. Alissia Zenhausern, NMD Naturopathic Doctor + Founder
Being a physician in Arizona, where we are experiencing a record number of COVID-19 cases, I have been recommending to patients to reduce unnecessary travel at this time. One of my biggest concerns is some airlines are considering filling their planes up to capacity, which makes social distancing nearly impossible. I am extremely concerned by this and have recommended patients not to travel by air at this time. For those who must travel for work, I am requiring COVID 19 testing including acute nasal swab testing prior to their trip as well as upon their return. The same recommendations also apply to train and cruise ship travel. Any travel that is not absolutely necessary should be avoided. This will help not only protect yourself from exposure to COVID 19 but will help reduce exposure to others who must travel for their work.
Hotels are currently implementing sanitation protocols for their hotels. However, make sure to contact the hotel you are planning to visit and ask them about their sanitation protocol and how they are protecting customers as well as their staff. Look for contact free check-in, and ways to limit your exposure to others. Continue social distancing and wear a mask at all times. Consider wearing gloves when touching elevator buttons and doorknobs.
For all forms of travels, I suggest avoiding all unnecessary travel. We understand that, especially during the summer months, many people are frustrated they are not going on vacation, however, the more we can reduce travel at this time, the better we can manage COVID -19 exposure and cases in each state.
For anyone traveling, I recommend COVID -19 testing. It is also important to remember that although you may be following the recommendations of social distancing and wearing a mask, you cannot control what the person sitting next to you on a plane does.
Jenny Bentwood, MD, Family Medicine
My husband, two toddlers and I recently moved from Idaho to NH. Initially, we were all going to travel by car, but being unsure whether rest areas would be open, the frequency of stops required with a 2- and 4-year-old, and the length of the trip, I made the decision to fly with the girls. My husband drove our car with the U-Haul trailer.
The girls and I flew Alaska Air from Seattle to Boston. My 4-year-old and I wore masks, I carried wipes and we did not check any luggage to minimize any time spent in a large group waiting in baggage claim. The plane was maybe 2/3 full, certainly no more than that. There was no food service and they did not distribute entertainment tablets. I was reassured by all these measures.
We stayed at a hotel the week before we moved. At that time, there were only 5 cases in our county, so I felt safe staying there. The rooms were cleaned daily, we kept the windows open and the staff were always masked and wore gloves. As long as the staff of the hotel is taking appropriate precautions and rooms are cleaned daily, I feel safe staying in hotels if I must.
Road trips in and of themselves seem the safest way to travel given that you are isolated to your own car. Of course, typically you need to make stops and of course there is a destination. Depending on the length of the trip, the number of stops you make, and the destination, the risk will change.
In general, during a pandemic, we should stay home. If one must travel, I recommend first considering your destination and avoiding areas with a high burden of disease. Drive in your own car if possible, with as few stops as possible (pack enough food to avoid restaurants). If you must fly, wear a mask, fly with an airline that actively enforces mask wearing and ensures that the plane will not be full. Carry hand sanitizer and bleach wipes.
Consider whether or not you may be a risk to someone else. Don’t travel if you’re ill and certainly don’t travel to an area where you have a high likelihood of contracting COVID and bringing it back to your home/family.
Dr Lisa Benya, Founder of CURE
Due to the rise in COVID 19 cases across many regions in the United States, I feel that non-essential travel should be avoided. If essential travel is necessary, I would recommend traveling by car to limit exposure to others. This might provide the only method to control your surroundings and avoid contact with others that might have COVID 19. If distance or time prohibits travel by car, then travel by air would be my next choice. In booking plane flights, I would research the airline thoroughly to ensure proper filtration, seating and cleaning protocols are being followed for maximum safety. Choosing the window seat and wearing masks, goggles/eye protection, and gloves during the entire travel experience from arrival to departure airport through to arrival to final destination gives you the best chances to avoid contracting the virus. My choice of hotels would also be researched thoroughly, ensuring that the company was following all safety protocols mandated by CDC. During my stay in the hotel, I would avoid lobbies and other common spaces.
As this pandemic rages on, the ability to find enjoyment safely is still a goal we all should have. Small road trips locally where scenery can be viewed and fresh air experienced is the best option for travel at this time.
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This column texts surprising ignorance by medical professionals about the safety and sanitation protocols currently being developed and in some cases employed by many in the travel industry. This is not to say that everyone does, but a little research can reveal those that are transforming the travel experience to be, in some cases, safer than before. New technologies such as electrostatic antiviral foggers, far-UVC lights and ventilation systems that replace the air every 2-4 minutes are revolutionary, and SHOULD make travelers feel comfortable when they are employed. We are not seeing breakouts from planes or the resorts using these technologies.