Your plan is definitely on brand for 2020 — more people opted for the Great American Road Trip this year when traveling. While air travel has dropped significantly since March, AAA estimated that car trips have only dipped slightly. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is urging everyone to reconsider winter travel to slow the spread of the coronavirus — whether you are going by car, plane, train or bus.
I took your question to fellow Bay Stater Nahid Bhadelia, an infectious-diseases physician and the medical director of the special pathogens unit at the Boston University School of Medicine.
“I really wouldn’t travel right now,” she says. “My concern is that we’re at the beginning of the [coronavirus case] increases from Thanksgiving travel, and we’re already at a point where health-care systems are overwhelmed.”
Bhadelia warns that we are about to suffer a one-two punch from people gathering for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and that we’ll be living with the consequences come January.
The next thing to consider is that California has implemented strict regional lockdowns, which includes the greater Sacramento area. The state health department issued a travel advisory last month requiring nonessential travelers to self-quarantine for 14 days. But because of the recent stay-at-home-order, you will not be able to stay at a hotel to quarantine properly away from your partner’s mom unless your trip is deemed essential travel.
Bhadelia also says to remember that at the end of your trip, you risk bringing the virus back home with you to Massachusetts.
But if you still end up taking the trip, there are concerns to address before, during and after your cross-country drive. Bhadelia says it is good that your travel companions (and hopefully you as well) are getting tested, but a negative test result doesn’t mean much if you’re not doing other things to reduce potential exposure to the virus.
The safest way to travel together is to quarantine before the trip. If you live separately, you should be quarantining separately, Bhadelia says.
“Decreasing your chances of being exposed right before travel is one way that you could mitigate some of that risk,” she says.
Once you get in the car with your partner and her sister, Bhadelia recommends keeping the windows open and wearing masks throughout the trip. Remember to pack extra personal protective equipment, hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes for the journey.
Other challenges will come as you drive. You will have to check every state’s rules and restrictions where you plan to stop.
Along the way, Bhadelia is most concerned about reducing your interactions with strangers. Limit your stops and time spent around other people (particularly if you’re indoors) as much as you can. Make gas station stops quick, order food to-go (or better yet, pack food), and keep your masks on whenever you’re around others.
“We now know that the virus sticks around for a few hours, and so ensuring ventilation sort of helps,” she says.
But doctors can’t encourage this enough: Consider postponing your trip until after this surge.
“The thing that raises the risk highest right now is that the community transmission is so high [right now] that you will encounter somebody who has an infection either before you leave, during your travel or when you’re over there,” she says. "[The risks] are much higher than they were in the summer.”
You can tell family you’ll see them sooner than later. Bhadelia feels optimistic about our ability to travel safely to see loved ones in the near future now that the vaccines will begin to roll out soon.
“We just have to hang in there a bit longer,” she says. “The vaccines are about to be distributed, it may be a few months until the general public gets it.”
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Travel during the pandemic: