There’s a renewed sense of optimism in the air, with the Covid-19 vaccine being rolled out across the U.S. While vaccine availability may significantly influence the possibilities of safer travel as the pandemic continues, many of us are excitedly anticipating the day when we can travel freely again – whether to see loved ones, attend business events, or simply to take a well-deserved vacation away from home.
The current CDC warning states that: “Travel can increase your chance of both spreading and getting Covid-19. Postponing travel and staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others from Covid-19.” However, even if you’re unable to travel just yet, there’s no harm in mapping out your next trip. After all, even the act of planning a trip can be beneficial to your mental health and well-being!
While you figure out the destination of your dreams, we’re here to cover your health and safety checklist. Before you book your ticket, it’s important to evaluate your risk by monitoring viral caseloads both where you live and at your travel destination. Are cases high or rapidly rising in your community or your destination? If so, your risk of contracting Covid-19 will be higher. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Covid-19 Data Tracker is a useful tool for checking each State’s case rate over a seven day period. If possible, consider postponing your travel plans until community transmission is low both within your community and at your destination.
Whether you’re traveling in four days or four months, it’s important to be prepared. While there may be no such thing as a no-risk environment, there are certainly steps we can take to help mitigate our risk of contracting and spreading Covid-19. Our pre-travel checklist can help you protect yourself and others, and reduce travel-related anxiety.
1. Take Precautions Before You Travel
- For 14 days prior to your travel, continue to take everyday precautions like wearing a mask and washing your hands, and avoid higher risk activities such as large social gatherings, visiting crowded venues such as bars, fitness centers, and restaurants, using public transportation, or traveling on a cruise ship or river boat.
2. Monitor Your (And Your Travel Companions’) Health
- Are you or your travel companion(s) feeling ill? Before traveling, check to make sure you and those you are traveling with are healthy. Stay home and do not travel if you are experiencing any Covid-19 symptoms, or if you have recently tested positive for Covid-19.
3. Get Vaccinated for Covid-19
- If you are eligible, consider getting vaccinated for Covid-19 prior to traveling. Please check your State and local health department websites for updated information regarding Covid-19 vaccine eligibility, access, and support.
4. It’s Not Too Late to Get a Flu Shot
- While the season for getting a flu shot is usually in September or October, getting it later can still help protect you against late flu outbreaks. Since it takes up to 2 weeks for immunity to develop, you should get your flu shot at least two weeks prior to traveling. While there is currently no evidence to suggest that the flu vaccine will protect you from a Covid-19 infection, it can reduce the risk of getting the flu, the severity of the flu infection, and risk of hospitalization and death due to the flu. Reducing the number of potential flu cases and their severity is crucial to help alleviate the burden on our healthcare systems as they continue to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Even if you are not traveling, the CDC continues to recommend annual influenza vaccinations for all persons aged 6 months or older.
5. Check Travel Restrictions and Requirements
- Every Country and each State in the U.S. may have different travel restrictions and requirements. If you are traveling internationally, the Covid-19 Country Specific Information provided by the U.S. Department of State may be a useful resource. If you are traveling domestically, please check State and local health department websites. Keep in mind that travel regulations are constantly changing as the pandemic continues to evolve. It is important to check back for updates as your trip gets closer.
6. Consider Getting Tested for Covid-19
- Research Covid-19 testing sites near to you. There are two types of tests that are currently approved for diagnosing a Covid-19 infection; a PCR test and an antigen test. While PCR tests typically have a longer turn-around time, ranging from several hours to days for traditional laboratory tests, they are also more sensitive than antigen tests. Antigen tests, on the other hand, can provide results in less than an hour, however false positives can occur, and a PCR test may be needed to confirm negative results. Verify which type of test will be acceptable by your destination and mode of transportation. You can also refer to the Mayo Clinic for more information regarding Covid-19 testing.
- If you test positive, stay home – do not travel. Self-isolate and follow public health recommendations. The same applies if you test positive at any time at your destination.
- Keep a copy of your test results with you during travel; you may be asked to show them.
7. Check for Covid-19 Safety Measures
- When Booking Transportation
- Check if your airline/train has Covid-19 safety protocols such as social distancing measures (e.g., blocking out middle seats and boarding back to front), enforced mask use, routine cleaning and disinfecting of the aircraft or train, and access to hand sanitizers and handwashing. These measures all help to reduce the risk of Covid-19 transmission.
- The same applies to car rentals. Research whether the rental car company has clear sanitation protocols including disinfectants that kill SARS-CoV-2. Are they enforcing social distancing and mask wearing during the check-in/check-out process?
- If your airline, train, or car rental provider does not have Covid-19 safety protocols in place, consider booking your travel with a different provider that does.
- When Booking Accommodation
- Research the measures your hotel/rental property is taking to protect the guests and staff. Does your hotel/rental have Covid-19 sanitizing protocols? For example, some hotels are implementing enhanced cleaning protocols, including the use of UV light to sanitize rooms and public areas.
- Check that your accommodation has sufficient air circulation/ventilation. How good is the HVAC and air filtration system in the space? Some hotels and cruise ships have begun installing air purification systems that are effective in capturing particles as small as SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes Covid-19). Finally, try and find accommodations that give you access to fresh air (e.g., operable windows, a balcony or terrace, etc.).
- Book a Stay Well Room! Developed by Delos™, Stay Well™ rooms offer evidence-based health and wellness features and programming to help create healthier indoor spaces. Combining scientific research with engineering and technological advancements, Stay Well rooms incorporate state-of-the-art wellness features to help improve indoor air and water quality, nutrition, sleep patterns and physical comfort, as well as reduce exposure to germs and allergens.
8. Download Contact Tracing Apps
- Many states and countries employ contact tracing apps to help keep you informed about potential Covid-19 exposures via your smartphone. The MIT technology review created a useful table detailing the Covid-19 Contact Tracing Apps currently available in the U.S., Guam, and Puerto Rico. If you are traveling internationally, try finding such an app at your destination, or asking about one at customs upon arrival.
9. Don’t Forget to Pack Your Pandemic Essentials
- Face Masks. Ensure that you have your face mask and plenty of spares!
- Face Shield or Glasses. Bring a face shield or glasses as an extra layer of protection. Face shields or glasses should be used as a supplementary layer of protection and should not be used in lieu of a face mask.
- Hand sanitizer/soap. If traveling by plane, the TSA is currently allowing one liquid hand sanitizer container up to 12 oz (roughly 355 ml) in carry-on bags. All other carry-on liquids, gels, and aerosols must still be 3 oz (100 ml) or less. Remember: hand sanitizers should have at least 60% alcohol.
- Snacks and a Refillable Water Bottle. Consider packing snacks and a refillable water bottle to avoid trips to crowded areas such as gas stations, airport shops, and restaurants.
- Headphones. Pack some headphones so you can de-stress while you travel by tuning into a mindfulness app like the MindBreaks™ app, which offers curated mindfulness content designed to increase energy, improve focus, enhance mood, and reduce stress.
Making sure you are informed and prepared before traveling can help to decrease your chance of spreading and getting Covid-19 as well as reduce any travel-related anxiety. However, following the pre-travel checklist above is only the first step! Stay tuned for our next post where we discuss the risks associated with different types of transportation and provide you with tips on how to stay safe while en route to your destination.
Edited by: Regina Vaicekonyte, MS and Radhika Singh