Please note: The content of this article was accurate on the day of publication. For the most up-to-date information and recommendations, visit the CDC website.
With the holiday season quickly approaching, many people are wanting to hit the road (and friendly skies) to celebrate with loved ones. And others simply want to get a change of scenery after becoming very familiar with every square inch of their homes.
As if the holiday season wasn’t complicated enough, this year poses many complex questions, namely: Is it safe to travel this holiday season?
While many have been cooped up for months (and some almost a year), it’s no surprise many want to get out of Dodge. But during a global pandemic, we all have the added responsibility of not only keeping our loved ones safe but also our larger community safe as well.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued its advice for holiday travel and gatherings. It reminds everyone that travel increases the risk of spreading the virus and that the best way to protect yourself and others is to stay home.
“Following CDC travel recommendations for this holiday season is the best way to protect yourself and those you care about the most from COVID-19 infection,” said Helen Arnold, RN, an infection prevention specialist at Banner Desert Medical Center and Banner Children’s at Desert.
For those who still wish to travel during the holiday season, we’ve put together a list of the lowest risk, medium risk and high risk travel so you can make an informed decision.
Lowest Risk: Short Trips by Car with Your Family
While this means you won’t get to see family and friends in person, a short road trip with your household is one of the lowest risk ways to get out of the house and travel this season.
Before you go, here are some tips to keep in mind:
- Visit places close enough that you won’t have to stop for gas or bathroom breaks
- Consider staying at an Airbnb or vacation rental versus staying at hotels or at a family member’s or friend’s home. In a private rental, you can also cook your own food and avoid interactions at restaurants.
- Bring masks and social distance, if you have to be out in public at all.
- The safest option is to bring your own food and drink. If you can’t, however, use drive-through, delivery, take-out, and curb-side pick-up options.
- If you do have to stop for gas, wipe down handles and buttons at the pump before you touch them. After fueling, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. When you get to your destination, wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds.
- If you do have to stop and use a public bathroom, make sure you wear a mask and wash your hands with soap and water after using the bathroom.
Medium Risk: Using Public Transit and Staying with Family Outside of Your Home
Public transit and being around those outside of your immediate family can put you at greater risk for transmitting COVID-19. That said, if you make the personal decision to travel by train or bus to stay with a family member, here are some important tips to keep in mind to lower your risk.
On public transit:
- If traveling by train, consider booking a private train car. If that’s not possible, review the individual policies on the transit you’ll be taking regarding their safety measures before booking.
- Opt for online or contactless reservations and payment, so you minimize contact with others. If you must touch surfaces, as soon as you can, wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water or use hand sanitizer containing 60% alcohol.
- While on public transit, make sure you wear a mask, avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth and practice social distancing when possible.
- After you leave the station, use hand sanitizer and wash your hands when you reach your final destination.
To dig deeper on the topic of bus, train and subway travel, check out this article on bbc.com.
Staying at a family member’s home:
- Before your visit, carefully analyze your family’s vulnerabilities, risk categories and medical conditions as well as the family you’ll be staying with.
- You may feel well but consider wearing a mask and social distance while inside the home and around those who are not a part of your household.
- Bring your own drinks, food and snacks if possible.
- Limit the number of people handling or serving food. If weather permits, consider having meals outdoors at a restaurant with social distancing as another alternative.
- Wash your hands often or use hand sanitizer.
- Throughout your visit, monitor your health and look for symptoms COVID-19.
High Risk: Flying Cross Country
Airports are doing their part to minimize contact and promote social distancing. Additionally, commercial airplanes are designed to clean and filter air quickly. But these features won’t eliminate your risk.
As you can imagine, air travel will put you in close contact with lots of other people and frequently touched surfaces, which is why it is one of the highest risk things you can do travel-wise this holiday season.
If you still make the decision to fly this holiday season, here are some things to keep in mind:
- Research airlines to see what safety precautions are being taken. Some airlines have blocked middle seats and require mandatory masking.
- Book direct flights to avoid layovers.
- Add extra cloth masks, alcohol-based hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes and a thermometer to your packing list.
- Consider a hands-free boarding pass using your digital device versus a printed paper copy.
- Place personal items, such as your wallet and keys in a carry-on bag instead of using the bins during security screenings.
- Wash your hands with soap and water before and after you go through screening.
- Bring a 12-ounce hand sanitizer to use throughout your flight and sanitizing wipes to disinfect your tray table and arm rests on the airplane.
- Wash your hands with soap and water when you reach your final destination.
Other Important Travel Safety Reminders
No matter your method of travel, here are some additional things to keep in mind if you make the decision to travel this holiday season:
- Get a flu shot for added protection.
- Before you travel to your destination, check to see the number of COVID-19 cases in the last 7 days and if your destination has requirements or restrictions for travelers.
- Delay your travel if you or a family member are sick or showing signs of COVID-19, are waiting for the results of a COVID-19 test, have recently tested positive or have been in close contact with someone with COVID-19.
- Take advantage of flexible airline and hotel cancellation and change policies to accommodate your plans.
- After you travel, you may feel well and not have any symptoms, but you can still be contagious and spread the virus to others. Regardless of where you’ve traveled, make sure you continue to social distance, wear a mask, wash your hands and watch your health and monitor for symptoms.
While nothing is 100 percent safe, if you heed expert advice, take the necessary precautions and make informed decisions led by CDC guidance, you may be able to travel again soon. Happy holidays!
For more information regarding COVID-19, visit bannerhealth.com.