Considering Holiday Travel? Here’s What to Know
December 16, 2020 – As U.S. regulators close to approving a second coronavirus vaccine, there is new hope that COVID-19 will ultimately be eradicated. But medical experts warn that optimism could lead to reckless behavior in the weeks to come, and advise people to approach vacation travel with the utmost caution.
Doctors recommend holding virtual gatherings instead of intimate gatherings and only travel when urgently needed. If travel is absolutely necessary, it’s important to have wipes, hand sanitizer, masks – and keep your guard on.
“Unfortunately, vaccines won’t eliminate the need for vacation precautions,” says Henry Wu, MD, director of the Emory TravelWell Center and associate professor in the Emory University School of Medicine. “This includes masking, distancing and hand hygiene.”
He adds: “The vaccines are extremely promising and could be a game changer. But we’re talking about several months before we see a rollout. “
Wu held a virtual briefing on Wednesday to provide safety tips when traveling by plane or car during the holidays. He noted the skyrocketing COVID-19 cases resulting from Thanksgiving and warned the same could happen after Christmas.
Anthony Fauci, MD, an American infectious disease specialist, said he has the same worries about Christmas as Thanksgiving – except Christmas could prove to be more harmful as the holidays are longer.
Because the vaccines are unlikely to be given to the general public until spring or later, they won’t relieve any restrictions on this holiday, Wu says.
Some of Wu’s safety recommendations for vacation travel include:
- Avoid traveling if it is not urgent.
- If you are traveling, keep gatherings small.
- Always wear a mask.
- Bring hand sanitizer.
- Keep your distance from other travelers.
If the precautions “are a headache and take the holiday spirit away, consider postponing,” Wu says.
He adds that traveling by car can be safer because you can control your surroundings. While aircraft ventilation makes it one of the safest environments in terms of COVID-19 risk, there are other issues to worry about, such as crowds and surfaces.
The good news, he says, is that hotels and Airbnbs have taken several sanitizing precautions, although he recommends wiping down room surfaces just in case. But, he says, the dangers of hotels don’t lie in single rooms – they’re in the reception area, in the lobby, and in the elevators.
“The more you can avoid these spaces, the better,” he says.
Wu referred to a massive coronavirus outbreak at an Austrian ski resort, which has infected thousands of people and worsened the spread of COVID-19 across Europe.
Once COVID-19 vaccines are widely distributed, Wu said, vaccination warrants could be created by airlines. But until then, he recommends avoiding all travel – and if you must, he says, get tested before you go, and self-isolate after your trip to avoid spreading the virus.
He also suggests following the CDC’s guidelines for vacation travel, which include:
Excessive vacation travel could lead to an even more strained healthcare system, Wu says.
“There will be a time when our hospitals, intensive care units and clinics will be overwhelmed and will just have to turn people away,” he says. “This is why everyone must do their part to take precautions.”
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