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You asked: Can we meet my elderly parents for our annual ski trip?

Our first By The Way Concierge column of the new year explores the risks of a family vacation.


(Cynthia Kittler/For The Washington Post)

Traveling has always come with complications, but the coronavirus pandemic has made it more challenging than ever. Our By The Way Concierge column will take your travel dilemmas to the experts to help you navigate the new normal. Want to see your question answered? Submit it here.

We are a family of four (two middle-aged adults, two school-aged boys) debating whether to take our annual family ski trip to Colorado. We would need to take a direct flight. The destination is to Frisco, Colo., where we would likely share a three-bedroom condo with my 74-year-old parents, who will be driving from Kentucky. The main activity would be skiing at Copper Mountain, which currently appears open. Should we require covid tests and wear masks in the condo until results come back? Are there precautions related to skiing we should think about? Sara, Maryland

We all hoped that the arrival of 2021 would mean we could leave the issues of 2020 behind us, but unfortunately that’s not how it works. Coronavirus cases and deaths are still on the rise, and vaccine distribution is off to a slow start.

Before I took your question to experts in Colorado, where you’re planning your ski trip, I wanted to see what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would advise for your situation.

Their feedback was the same as it has been for the past few months: Traveling increases your risk of being exposed or exposing someone else to the coronavirus, and postponing your trip is the best way to protect yourself and others.

“Travel itself is just one part of overall risk,” CDC spokesman Brian Katzowitz said in an email. “Taking precautions like wearing a mask, staying at least six feet from others, avoiding gatherings, and washing your hands are important ways to protect yourself from infection.”

While Colorado doesn’t have blanket coronavirus travel restrictions for out-of-state visitors, guidelines vary by county. For example, Pitkin County, home to Aspen, requires travelers sign an affidavit saying they have gotten a negative coronavirus test result within 72 hours of arrival.

In Summit County, where you’re planning on staying and skiing, no testing or affidavit is required, but visitors must wear masks in public indoor spaces and outside when they can’t stay six feet from others, and should not gather with people from other households, among other rules.

Even if it’s not required, the CDC recommends anyone traveling domestically get a viral coronavirus test one to three days before travel and three to five days after returning home.

The CDC advisors were particularly concerned for your parents, as people 65 and older are at higher risk of coronavirus-related hospitalization and death.

Connie Savor Price, an infectious-disease physician and the chief medical officer at Denver Health, is also most worried about your parents traveling at this time, and she recommends postponing your trip until they have been fully vaccinated or go without them.

“I don’t think the elderly at risk should be traveling and staying with [family] members outside of their household,” she says.

If you still decide to go, it would be better to have separate lodging from your parents. If that’s not possible, maintain social distance from your parents at all times, limit time indoors together, and keep your masks on inside. You may also want to eat your meals apart.

“We know that dining can be particularly risky indoors,” says Rachel Herlihy, Colorado’s state epidemiologist. “Keep in mind if individuals are removing masks at any time, that’s going to create a potential for transmission.”

The skiing itself is probably the safest part of your plan.

“Masks and goggles are part of the normal attire, so it doesn’t even feel odd to have to do that. It’s outdoors. I think it can be done very safely,” Price says. “The biggest risk is really what you do outside of skiing: You know, getting lunch in a crowded chalet, taking off your masks, being in a crowded area.”

Price and Herlihy feel confident in the measures Colorado ski resorts are taking to protect visitors, from enable social distancing on chair lifts to offering more grab-and-go food options so people can eat outdoors.

Your ski destination, Copper Mountain, has implemented coronavirus protocols, like mask requirements, however it still acknowledges on its website that “we cannot guarantee you will not be exposed to COVID-19 during your visit.”

Herlihy says travelers should plan for the worst-case scenario of getting infected or developing symptoms during their trip. It’s not only a health concern, but also a financial one.

“Be prepared to [quarantine] and potentially pay for housing and support yourself during that time,” she says.

Have a travel dilemma for By The Way Concierge? Submit it here.

Read more:

Tips: Coronavirus testing | Sanitizing your hotel | Using Uber and Airbnb | Traveling tools

Flying: Pandemic packing | Airport protocol | Staying healthy on plane | Fly or drive | Layovers

Road trips: Tips | Rental cars | Best snacks | Long-haul trains | Rest stops | Cross-country drive