You’re not alone in your concern. We’ve been getting a ton of questions from confused parents worried about traveling with — or returning home to — their unvaccinated children, particularly since the delta variant surge escalated this summer. I took your question to a few experts of epidemiology and pediatrics to get their take.
I’ll start with the pediatrician’s take. Mike Patrick, an emergency medicine physician and general pediatrician at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, told me that in general, any parents considering travel with unvaccinated kids should proceed with caution.
“I think parents should be a little concerned about traveling with their kids, making sure that you’re taking the proper precautions and not treating them as you would someone who’s vaccinated,” said Patrick, who also hosts the pediatric health-care podcast PediaCast.
Patrick said he believes that there is risk in everything that we do, and that those risks can be minimized with some planning.
“If you can go and you’re not going to a really crowded place, I think it’s still a good idea [to travel] if you keep those precautions in mind in terms of wearing a face mask, social distancing and washing your hands often,” he said.
While he supports families taking similar precautions as they did in 2020, he doesn’t think they need to hunker down at home.
“Mental health is important and getting away and taking a vacation, especially as a family, is also important,” he said.
That being said, Hawaii is not the right place for your family vacation at this time.
Karen Edwards, professor and chair of the department of epidemiology at the University of California at Irvine, warns that Hawaii is in a much different place in terms of the coronavirus now than a couple of months ago. The state is experiencing a case surge, and it is reinstating local restrictions to prevent further spread.
“The upswing in cases is likely to continue over the several weeks so I would consider cancelling and rescheduling at a later date when cases are down and restrictions are removed,” Edwards said in an email. “This advice is also consistent with the Governor Ige’s statement that ‘now is not the right time to travel [to Hawaii] and that visitors should postpone their trips until after the end of October 2021.’ ”
If you decide you would still like to keep the vacation plans, check to see what rules your kids’ school has regarding student travel. Fellow By The Way reporter Hannah Sampson recently talked to health experts about different trips you can take with kids if you are looking for other options.
Keri Althoff, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said that last year many schools implemented travel policies that included testing requirements or going virtual in the week after the holidays. She recommended asking the school what its policy is before deciding to go on vacation.
“If you’re going on that trip, it may mean that your child won’t be allowed back in school,” Althoff said. “In other places, you may be allowed back into school without any delays.”
No matter what your child’s school says, Althoff recommended using an at-home testing kit after traveling (more on that here) and monitoring your family for symptoms. If anyone shows any signs of illness, stay home and call your pediatrician.
Althoff, a parent of three kids under the age of 12, knows how difficult the pandemic has been on families, and she sympathized with your confusion of whether to travel. Are you being too overly cautious by thinking of canceling? She doesn’t think so.
“It’s a tough process, and it is heavily contingent upon details of your travel as well as your family’s risk tolerance,” she said.
Her additional advice is to call your school and ask if your kids can stay home for the first three days so you can monitor for symptoms and get tested before heading into the classroom.
She added: “It’s not unreasonable also to send your kids back if you took appropriate precautions while you were traveling and your kids were healthy upon return and they’re going to be masked.”
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