After social distancing and staying indoors for so long, a lot of people are feeling restless and want a change of scenery. Although it’s tempting to travel, the CDC and State of Texas recommend staying home as the best way for people to protect themselves and others from COVID-19.
For those who decide to go on a vacation, we asked Dr. Elizabeth Torres, an internal medicine specialist at St. Luke's Health–Sugar Land Hospital, for tips on staying safe while traveling during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Plan Out Every Stop on Your Trip and Practice Social Distancing
Before you set out on the road, plan out every stop on your trip so that you can steer clear of crowded places to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19. Keep hydrated if traveling by car and carry snacks or food items with you to limit pit stops. As Texas heat is a major concern during this time of year, we need to be cautious about sun exposure and overheating. So don’t forget the sunscreen, and drink plenty of water.
When traveling by car, try to avoid states where there is a higher rate of COVID cases as there may be restrictions for out of state travelers such as quarantines. Please consult your state and local health department to get information on health advisories for the area to which you were traveling.
Practice Hand Hygiene
Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds when you can, and as always, cleanse your hands before handling food. When you can’t wash them, use hand sanitizer with 60% alcohol, but refrain from using ones on the FDA’s list of hand sanitizers consumers should not use.
Pack Masks and Gloves
Whenever you’re in public or around people outside of your group, wear a mask. You might not be able to wash your masks as often as you do at home, so pack extras. Remember to wear your mask properly over your nose and mouth at all times when in close proximity to other people. Try to avoid touching your mask. Furthermore, bring gloves, so you can avoid touching high-touch surfaces like those found in public bathrooms. After removing your gloves, clean your hands with soap and water or hand sanitizer.
Monitor COVID-19 Data and Restrictions at Your Destination
When you plan your vacation, avoid going to places with high numbers of COVID-19 cases. The CDC posts state-by-state COVID-19 data and health notices for other countries, so be sure to monitor those resources.
The CDC recently lifted its recommendation to stay home for a 14-day period following trips outside the country or out of state. Nonetheless, some states have special quarantine orders in place, so check those restrictions before heading to a new destination.
Take Your Medication and Health Information
If you’re traveling with anyone who’s taking a medication, determine how much you’ll need for the duration of your trip, and bring extra. To protect against heat, store medicine in a cooler, especially if you’re taking insulin. With hurricane season upon us, there’s a chance you could be delayed, and you don’t want to be stuck without enough medicine.
It’s also a good idea to bring a list of your prescriptions, health information, and your doctor’s contact number. This will make things easier if you have to seek medical care while you’re away from home.
Risks When Flying or Taking a Cruise
Because of the way air is circulated and filtered on airplanes, it’s hard for viruses and germs to spread easily on flights. However, you may be in close contact with strangers or high-touch surfaces in security lines, airport terminals, and on the flight, which increases your risk of exposure. Also, make sure to consider how you’re getting to and from the airport since ridesharing and public transportation can inflate your chances of being infected with COVID-19.
The CDC issued a No Sail Order for cruise ships that will be in effect until September 30, 2020. Additionally, they’ve labeled cruise ships as a level III health risk, so you’ll be unable to go on a cruise through the month of September.
Travel for People With a Higher Risk of COVID-19 Complications
For people with a history of heart disease, cancer, chronic kidney disease, chronic lung disease, sickle cell, or diabetes, as well as patients undergoing transplants, it is highly discouraged to travel due to your weakened immunity and inability to fight the virus.
For patients with chronic health conditions who are still wishing to travel, you may need special attention and preparation before you leave on your trip. Depending on the seriousness or severity of your illness, you may want to ask your doctor if it’s safe to travel.
For example, if you’re traveling to an area of high altitude, you may be at risk for altitude sickness. It may be wise to ask your doctor if it is safe for you to do so. Higher altitudes have lower oxygen concentrations, which may cause stress on the heart and lungs. There are special medications that can help prevent altitude sickness.
Whether you decide to stay home or take a vacation, follow these tips for staying safe when venturing out. If you’re wondering whether it’s safe for you to travel, schedule a virtual visit with your Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Group primary care physician to discuss your plans.
CDC | Travel during the COVID-19 Pandemic
Texas Department of State Health Services | Information for Travelers
FDA | FDA updates on hand sanitizers consumers should not use
CDC | United States COVID-19 Cases and Deaths by State
CDC | Travel Health Notices
USA Today | Returning from overseas or out of state? The CDC removes its 14-day quarantine recommendation
CDC | State and Territorial Health Department Websites
CDC | Cruise ship No Sail Order extended through September 2020
CDC | COVID-19 and Cruise Ship Travel