Traveling During COVID-19
This year, even more than usual, we all need a vacation, that critical yearly ritual that allows us to leave our routines behind and soak in some new scenery. Sadly, the same reason many of us need a vacation—COVID-19—is also making vacations difficult. Is it even safe to travel right now? The answer to that question depends on several factors.
Where you want to go. Your very first step is to check to see if COVID-19 is spreading in the area you hope to visit. https://www.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/index.html#cases If so, pick someplace else. Also check the department of health website for the state you are visiting to see if they are allowing visitors from where you live. Note that the colors that indicate the safety or danger of traveling to this place or that one change all the time. Be prepared for your destination to change from a safe place to an unsafe one while you’re there.
Who you invite. Ideally, we would take only those we live with on our vacation. Otherwise, only trusted friends who have quarantined for the 2 weeks leading up to the trip, are acceptable travel companions.
How you get there. Take your own car, whenever possible. Taking your own car is an important part of some state’s travel restrictions. Doing so will relate to fewer post-trip quarantine requirements. If you must rent a car, ask the rental agency about their disinfecting practices. Their list of precautions should be long and detailed. Avoid flying or public transportation entirely, if possible.
Where you stay. Day trips, while not quite as exciting, eliminate the risk of staying in an unfamiliar place. Note that day trips don’t always completely eliminate the need for quarantine upon your return. Check your state’s guidelines for details.
If you must stay overnight, renting a private home is the best option. Unless you’re absolutely certain that a week or more has passed between guests or the owners have disinfected thoroughly, disinfect every surface when you arrive. If you plan to stay in a hotel, ask about their distancing and disinfecting policies and be sure they meet high standards.
How you behave. Perhaps most important, regardless of where you are, is how you behave. Masking when in public, staying 6 feet from others, and washing hands frequently are indispensable parts of any trip that takes you out of your own driveway. Be careful, always.
What you do when you get back. Check your state’s department of health website for guidelines regarding what you must do when you return. For instance, in Vermont, even if you go on a day trip to an area with low rates of active cases, you must quarantine when you return. The minimum quarantine is 7 days followed by a negative PCR test. This is especially difficult for people who cannot work remotely, as they may have to take extra time off following their vacation in order to quarantine.
With all of the restrictions, extra planning, and worries about becoming exposed, you might find staying home to be the most relaxing thing you can do this year. For most of us, our hometowns are filled with opportunities to see and do new things: trails we have never hiked, drive-in movie theaters we have never been to, a new golf (or mini golf) course to try, or a picnic spot we haven’t been to in years. As always, be sure to mask in public, keep 6 feet from others, and wash and sanitize your hands whenever you touch something that may have been touched by someone else. You’ll likely find your staycation plenty fun for this unusual year.
Donna Barron, RN, is the infection preventionist at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center.