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You asked: I got covid on vacation. Where should I report my case?

By The Way Concierge looks into tracing protocols if you test positive after flights and cruises

(Cynthia Kittler for The Washington Post)
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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.

“I just got home from a cruise. I’m not sure how to go about telling the cruise line and airlines that ALL 7 of my group are now positive. Any suggestions?” — Heidi W.

The good news is you got home! There are plenty of people dealing with the complication of testing positive for the coronavirus abroad and figuring out how to get back into the United States. There are also people who get trapped onboard ships because of quarantine.

Now that you’re back, what’s the move? I took your situation to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Their advice was short and sweet.

“The individual would need to inform their local or state public health department, who will make notifications to the travel industry partners,” the CDC’s Jasmine Reed said.

How the health department will react is less straightforward.

CDC will let cruise rules expire as omicron surges on ships

“It’s a mixed bag of responses from local public health departments,” said Jessica Malaty Rivera, an epidemiologist with the COVID Tracking Project.

She has heard from offices that say they’ll keep you in mind for contact tracing and others that seem overwhelmed and barely react to the information.

In addition to trying the health department, Malaty Rivera suggests getting in touch with your cruise line.

“I would contact the cruise line immediately,” she said. “Assuming that they just got back and disembarked, they probably were in their infectious period while on the ship.”

She also recommends individually reaching out to any people outside of your group that you may have befriended or spent extensive time with during the trip (should you have their contact information, of course).

I’ve been exposed to covid. Do I tell my Airbnb host?

As for calling the airline, “there’s not a whole lot that the airline can do,” Malaty Rivera said. “I don’t know if the airlines are engaging in that sort of contact tracing.”

The same is true for other forms of transportation, like Amtrak, buses or ferries. Malaty Rivera wishes there was a national protocol for travelers to follow. Because of the lack of standardization in case reporting, “it’s so hard to know which systems are reliable,” she said.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t report your case.

“As a good citizen, call and [say], ‘I just want you to know I was a passenger on your train, plane, automobile, boat and I recently tested positive,’ and hope for the best,” Malaty Rivera said.

Reporting your case to your close contacts or transportation company may help break the cycle of transmission. It could influence someone who was exposed — and potentially infected — to make fewer high-risk decisions, such as dining indoors with an immunocompromised friend or visiting a retirement home.

For those feeling anxious about reporting a positive case, Malaty Rivera is adamant that people should not feel shame or guilt about getting the coronavirus during the omicron surge.

“The odds are against everyone right now,” she said.

Her advice for other travelers at this time: “Don’t get on cruise ships.” Despite best efforts, ships are prone to coronavirus outbreaks.

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

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