As the weather warms and snow begins to melt, many Americans have their eyes set on summer. After all, from long walks and hikes to park playdates and trips to the beach, summer has been (historically speaking) one heck of a season. It’s also the time of year when most Americans travel. Family vacations tend to occur when the weather is nice and the kids are out of school. But is it safe to travel this summer? Well, yes and no. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is still suggesting everyone avoid non-essential travel, even those who are/have been fully vaccinated. However, as COVID-19 rates go down, that guidance could change.
“One of the biggest determinants of how safe things are is how much virus is circulating,” Dr. Andrew Pavia, the chief of the pediatric infectious diseases division at the University of Utah Health, tells NBC. “Once the level of transmission goes down dramatically in your community and in the place you’re traveling to, everything becomes safer.” In other words, as more and more individuals are vaccinated, the inherent risk will go down. Time may also be on our side. And destinations are an important variable.
Camping, for example, is considered a low risk activity while going to a theme park — and staying at a hotel — is risky, at best. According to Hartford Healthcare, going to an amusement park is a level 8 activity out of 9.
Here’s everything we know about traveling during COVID-19.
Is it safe to fly during COVID?
While millions of Americans have traveled during COVID by air — for work or recreation — the CDC suggests individuals avoid flying (when possible) due to airport spread. “Air travel requires spending time in security lines and airport terminals, which can bring you in close contact with other people and frequently touched surfaces,” the CDC explains. “Most viruses and other germs do not spread easily on flights because of how air circulates and is filtered on airplanes; however, keeping your distance is difficult on crowded flights, and sitting within six feet of others, sometimes for hours, may make you more likely to get COVID-19.”
If you find travel necessary and/or choose to take a family vacation, consider driving as this will limit your exposure to others.
“When traveling by car, you can control who you are exposed to,” Dr. Niket Sonpal, a NYC Internist and faculty member at Touro College of Medicine, tells Scary Mommy. “When you stop to get a drink or something to eat, you can do so at an outdoor establishment, and wear your mask until you are served your food and sit six feet away from those not traveling with you.”
Can you stay in a hotel?
If you’ve stayed in a hotel anytime during the past year, you know one thing is true: They’ve really stepped up their cleaning game. Rooms are sanitized between guests. High-traffic touchpoints and surfaces are disinfected frequently, and many hotels have closed public facilities, like gyms and pools, to minimize guest contact. But in spite of these changes, staying in a hotel or lodge with other people comes with inherent risk — albeit a low-to-moderate risk.
If you are staying at a lodge or hotel overnight, “wear a mask in the lobby or other common areas,” the CDC explains. “Minimize use of areas that may lead to close contact (within 6 feet) with other people as much as possible, like break rooms, outside patios, inside lounging areas, dining areas/kitchens, game rooms, pools, hot tubs, saunas, spas, salons, and fitness centers.” Use contactless payment and check-in/out options, if possible. And eat in your room, or outside.
Still not comfortable? Consider renting an Airbnb or vacation home.
Will you need to wear a mask?
Yes, regardless of your travel plans and/or destination, you should plan to wear a mask if you are 1) not swimming, 2) eating or drinking, 3) or in a private location, like your vacation rental and/or hotel room.
What types of vacations are safest?
While some destinations are safer than others — going to a museum, for example, is exponentially smarter (and safer) than going on a cruise — the “safest kind of vacation is one that is mostly outdoors and where it is reasonable to expect that everyone will be practicing social distancing and wearing masks,” Dr. Buddy Creech, director of the Vanderbilt Vaccine Research Program, tells NBC. Examples include hiking, cycling, swimming, and/or walking downtown. However, it is imperative that wherever you go, you take necessary precautions, particularly if you are traveling with unvaccinated family members or kids.
Since children cannot be vaccinated yet, is it safe for them to travel?
The overall risk of the coronavirus to healthy children has been low, but they are still capable of transmitting COVID, and though rare, there have been severe and fatal cases in children. “Most children with COVID-19 have mild symptoms or have no symptoms at all,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains. “However, some children can get severely ill from COVID-19. They might require hospitalization, intensive care, or a ventilator to help them breathe. In rare cases, they might die.”
“Children aren’t risk-free,” Dr. Kelly Fradin, a pediatrician in New York City who is the author of “Parenting in a Pandemic: How to Help Your Family Through COVID-19,” tells NBC. “We want to balance, realistically, that they are low-risk but not absolutely no risk.”
Are there any specific individuals who should avoid travel?
High-risk individuals should remain home, as should anyone who is concerned about contracting COVID — as the only way to prevent the spread is to reduce and/minimize exposure. You cannot contract COVID if you are not exposed to it. Individuals who are actively sick should avoid travel at all costs, unless it is essential to their medical care. Unless they are told by a doctor or medical professional they need to. And those who have yet to receive the COVID vaccine may want to wait, as “travel increases your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19,” the CDC explains.
Information about COVID-19 is rapidly changing, and Scary Mommy is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. With news being updated so frequently, some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For this reason, we are encouraging readers to use online resources from local public health departments, the Centers for Disease Control, and the World Health Organization to remain as informed as possible.