What You Need To Know: Safety Tips For Traveling During The Coronavirus Pandemic
Georgia Public Broadcasting’s series What You Need To Know: Coronavirus provides succinct, fact-based information to help you get through the coronavirus pandemic with your health and sanity intact.
With Labor Day weekend and the winter travel season quickly approaching, Dr. Henry Wu, Director of Emory TravelWell Center, provides safety precautions and guidelines to follow while planning to travel domestically and/or internationally during the coronavirus pandemic.
Dr. Henry Wu: As Labor Day approaches and the upcoming winter travel season, I think it's a good time to think about travel in this new pandemic age. I think it's good to share some of the advice we're giving to our travelers which is informed a lot by the experiences that we've had in our COVID operations.
First, I should emphasize that because the risk of COVID is still fairly high throughout the world, the risk cannot be totally mitigated. So, I do think that the threshold to travel should still be a bit higher than it is during normal times. This is particularly true if you're elderly, have medical problems, or are visiting or have family members that have those risk factors for a more severe illness. However, if you do need to travel, you can be proactive and take steps to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your community.
First, if you're feeling sick or have been in close contact with somebody with confirmed COVID-19 illness, please do stay home. Thankfully many times this illness can be mild, even asymptomatic however we do know that those cases can still spread the infection to others. So please stay home and do your best to protect others if you might be sick.
I strongly encourage all travelers and the general community when you're out and about in public among others to wear a face covering. I firmly believe that face coverings protect the wearer. We use these every day in our clinics. I do believe they do protect you against COVID-19 and protect others in case you happen to be sick. Of course, they have to be worn correctly, make sure your hands are clean when you're putting on the mask. Cover your nose and your mouth, and if you do have to adjust your mask or remove it, do your best to sanitize or clean your hands.
Maintain your distance from others when in public. Of course, we all know about the social distancing rules, or six feet apart rules, and this applies not only when you're standing in lines but really when you're out and about in general. I encourage travelers and the general public to really internalize this distancing. Redefine what you consider what is your personal space when you're out and about. This way you can inherently keep yourself protected as you're moving through more crowded areas.
Keep your hands clean of course. Although we do believe most of the spread is through the air, through large respiratory droplets, there is still a possibility you may touch a contaminated surface. And then subsequently infect yourself. So, carry hand sanitizer with you at all times. You may not always be close to a sink, this is particularly important when you're interacting with others or may touch common surfaces like doorknobs, elevator buttons, ATM machines and the like.
On planes of course you don't always have control of where you're sitting, who you're sitting next to. To the extent, if possible, please try your best to sit away from others. If that's not possible remember that masks are now a requirement on most airlines and I strongly encourage folks to wear them regardless. This will help protect you just in case somebody immediately around you might be sick. Only remove it if you have to take a drink or eat, otherwise keep it on. The good news is that the air circulation and filtration systems on the aircraft are very good. So really my main concern is those that are immediately around you. Whenever going out consider that any congregate setting, whether it's a restaurant, or a party, or a club, any place with a large number of people, particularly indoors, particularly when you're close together, can be risky. So, think carefully before you go out and where you go. If you're eating, consider taking out, or if you have to dine in consider trying to eat outdoors or choose an establishment with patio seating and the like. Whenever I go out if I see staff not wearing masks, with masks down their chin, I turn around and look for somewhere else to go.
On road trips plan carefully. Plan your stops. Try to minimize them. Pack your food if you can, as much as possible so you don't have to make those extra stops for food and water. When you do make your stops for gas or things, please wear a mask, carry your hand sanitizer with you. This will help protect you on your stops.
Note that travel in general has become much more complicated if you're crossing state or international borders. Many jurisdictions even within the U.S. now have requirements for testing and potentially quarantine requirements. You may be subject to temperature checks upon arrival. Some of these can come up unexpectedly, so your best bet is to do your research far in advance. Check with the country's embassy. Check with the CDC and the state department. The International Air Transport Association also has the database of regulations. Your airlines may also be a source of information. Doing as much research as possible can help make your travel go much more smoothly.
Finally, there's never been a better time to get a Flu Shot during travel. Even in normal times we've always encouraged the Flu Shot as a travel vaccine. The Flu has always been one of the most common infections you can get when you're traveling. This year there's another reason to get the Flu Shot. The Flu can present with symptoms that are identical to COVID-19. So, preventing the Flu can save you a lot of trouble if you are traveling. Imagine what would happen if you landed in a foreign country with a high fever, a cough that is really the Flu. You could end up getting isolated, having mandatory testing, and you certainly would cause yourself, your family, the people you're visiting a lot of worries. So, get a Flu Shot for every reason.