By Jeannette Ouyang-Latimer, M.D., M.P.H.
For many people, traveling during the winter holidays is the only way they get to visit with their loved ones during the year. But due to the pandemic, holiday travel in 2020 is risky.
The CDC is projecting that newly reported COVID-19 cases and deaths will likely increase through mid-December and is again advising Americans not to travel to help prevent the spread. However, this can be a difficult ask for college students and military personnel. For those who decide to travel, the CDC recommends doing so as safely as possible.
Precautions to Take When Traveling
- Get yourself and your travel companions tested first and ask everyone who you are visiting to get tested prior to your arrival. If anyone tests positive, consider canceling plans or asking that person to not attend the gathering.
- Check on restrictions and safety guidelines for the location you’re visiting and prepare accordingly. Pack anything you might need to adhere to local ordinances.
- Choose an area with a low infection rate. If possible, hold your gathering in a city or town that does not have a high number of COVID cases.
- Consider traveling by car, which seems to be safer than air travel for avoiding infection. If possible, use your own vehicle. If you rent a car, be sure that the car rental company has sanitation protocols in place.
- If flying, confirm the airline enforces masks and ensure that social distancing is practiced inside the plane (with middle seats open). Also try to choose a window seat to minimize the number of people walking past you during the flight. Opt to drive to the airport instead of taking a bus or shuttle. And when you’re inside the airport, be sure to follow social distancing guidelines and wear a mask.
- Stay in a hotel if the home you’re visiting will have numerous overnight guests. Believe it or not, because of the safety and cleaning protocols at most hotels, it can be safer to book a room than to stay with loved ones because studies are showing that surfaces do not play a large part in transmission of the virus. However, staying in close quarters with others could pose a risk.
COVID-19 has made this year difficult in numerous ways, and preventing people from visiting loved ones over the holidays may be one of the most difficult challenges it has presented. While the safest choice is to remain home, safe holiday travel is possible with a lot of precaution and planning.
Dr. Ouyang-Latimer is an Infectious Disease specialist who cares for patients at Kelsey-Seybold’s Berthelsen Main Campus and West Grand Parkway Clinic. She is certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine: Infectious Disease and the American Board of Pediatrics. Her clinical interests include vaccines, HIV, complex infections, and antimicrobial stewardship.