How to safely vacation during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic

Posted at 2:50 PM, Jul 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-28 17:50:53-04

Many American families look forward to taking that annual summer vacation, but this year things are a little different because it's summer of COVID-19.

The ongoing coronavirus outbreak has made many families apprehensive about traveling.

Earlier this week, governors in the tri-state region added 10 additional states to the quarantine list. Now, visitors from a total of 31 states must self-isolate for 14 days when they arrive in our area.

Officials said it was a necessary move given the spike in cases in various parts of the country.

For many families, the decision to travel for that annual summer vacation even tougher. What can you do? Where can you go and how can you safely get there?

Jennifer Herscovici, a New York City area parent to 10-year-old Talia and 12-year-old Noah, has the same concerns and trepidation as parents nationwide about trips.

“I had a vacation planned in the beginning of the summer that I had to cancel and my husband and I, we still hope to go on vacation," she said. “We’re nervous about pulling the trigger and making a definitive plan."

Dr. Niket Sonpal, an internist and gastroenterologist who's also an assistant clinical professor at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine and assistant clinical professor at St. George's University School of Medicine, assessed the risks of vacationing.

“The only way you’re going to 100% eliminate the risk in exposure to COVID-19 is if there’s a vaccination,” said Dr. Sonpal.

“If families want to travel, they are accepting a risk," Sonpal added. "To mitigate the risk, I would say don’t travel. Try to do something where you can do something locally, but if you do absolutely need to go visit somewhere or have a change of environment, try for it to be outdoors with as few people as possible and there’s a large volume of air to reduce the probability of exposure to the virus.”

Dr. Sonpal understands the need for a family vacation.

“The idea of allowing the kids to have some break, some change of environment, a change of pace if you will, is very much needed,” said Sonpal. “Parents want to be able to take their kids away, however right now there’s just so much in flux and so much changing day-to-day that to be able to say yes or no is not that easy.”

One of the biggest concerns for families is air travel.

“Airline travel should really be reserved at this time given the high numbers of cases all around the country,” said Dr. Sonpal “Air travel should really not be at this time in my opinion, for leisurely travel, just given the risks of moving from one state to another and the possibility of contraction.”

ut if you must travel, here are some tips:

  • Wear a mask
  • Bring sanitizing wipes on board and wipe down your seat, tray table, armrests, air vents, windows, lights, and fan
  • Bring your own food
  • Check the airline’s policy on social distancing and seating capacity.

“Road travel is probably going to be much safer than airline travel because, with road travel, you can limit the people you are exposed to so you are technically still quarantining with your core group,” said Dr. Sonpal.

With many families opting to hit the road instead, if you’re going to rent an RV or car, it’s also recommended you deep sanitize the vehicle first.

“I would love to know if medical experts think going to a hotel is safe and how much of my own independent cleansing do I have to do,” said Herscovici.

Herscovici also has concerns about inclement weather keeping the family indoors at a hotel or resort on a rainy day. Dr. Sonpal said she’s wise to consider that.

When it comes to hotels, experts suggest:

  • bring your own linens
  • bring your own pillows
  • bring sanitizing wipes
  • practice good hygiene by washing your hands frequently

”Right now when you go to a restaurant, we’re not reusing ketchup bottles, why would you reuse a pillow,” said Dr. Sonpal. “There’s no data behind this. It really depends on where you're staying and the reputation of the hotel and how much you trust what they claim they’re doing in terms of sanitizing the linens.”

As for activities, the safest ones are those that are outdoors: camping, hiking, a dip in the lake, or perhaps a picnic. Experts also suggested traveling only with people you know and in small groups. Be mindful of the forecast. Rain will keep you indoors and that raises your risk of coming into contact with someone who may be sick.

”You want to be as outdoor-friendly as possible, said Dr. Sonpal. “What outdoor-friendly means is not Disney World, there’s going to be a ton of people there.”

There’s also concern the virus is not only spread by contact but through the air as well.

“That data is still inconclusive; there are a lot of scientists who believe the virus is aerosolized, which is why we’re having such rampant spread, others believe it’s by contact,” said Sonpal. “At this point, it’s best to assume both. That’s why we encourage you to wear masks, practice hand hygiene, socially distance.”

Herscovici and her husband are still hoping to take their family trip before summer ends, choosing a week where there is no rain in the forecast so they can stay outdoors as much as possible.

“If we can get away if it worked out, we will,” said Herscovici. “It’ll be a spontaneously planned vacation.“

Finally, if you do decide to travel before you leave home, be sure to check if the state or region you’re headed to has a quarantine order or other restrictions in place for visitors.