It’s impossible for anyone to predict what the coronavirus will do next. Will it spread during the summer months? Or will the August heat slow the rate of infection? Do I wear a face mask outside, or is it unnecessary?
And the big question: Should I travel, or wait until the curve flattens — again?
It is difficult to make travel plans when regulations, rules, protocols and public perception change daily. Will there ever be a good time to travel, or a safe destination to visit? According to Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, the sacrifices and adjustments we are making to abate the spread of COVID-19 will likely need to continue for another year.
But it’s also hard to squash the natural urge to travel. Humans have explored and discovered new worlds since the beginning of time. Businesses are opening back up and companies are updating their duty of care policies for traveling employees. The open road is calling.
Global Rescue tracks health and safety risks 24/7/365 for members, who are some of the most adventurous travelers in the world. Before you plan 2020 travel, our security and medical experts suggest asking (and answering) these 10 questions:
Are you ready to travel?A travel health consultation is recommended four to six weeks before any travel. Bring your itinerary and the doctor will provide recommendations customized to your own health history, travel plans and activity itinerary.
Take into consideration age and health history, for yourself and close family members. Baby boomers — the generation born between 1946 and 1964 and currently between the ages of 54 and 72 — are the most at risk for coronavirus. Johns Hopkins Medicine recommends older adults put off non-essential travel during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Most seniors have underlying medical conditions, like heart or lung disease or diabetes, that puts them at a higher risk for developing serious complications from COVID-19 illness,” said Jacqueline Sioson, operations supervisor at Global Rescue. “There is also atypical presentation of pneumonia in the elderly, which includes confusion and generalized weakness. You may be sick and not know it.”
I’m healthy. Do I still need to wear a mask?Global Rescue personnel suggest wearing a mask, period. Here’s why: Recent research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found speech-generated droplets can linger in the air for anywhere from eight to 14 minutes.
What are the rules for domestic travel?In the United States, each state has its own coronavirus rules and regulations. The CDC also has a list of state and territorial health departments.
If you are in the U.S. and traveling close to home, here are some additional resources to help plan summer travel:
- The National Park Service provides a searchable map of parks open to the public.
- The RV Industry Association has created a chart of what RV campgrounds are open and closed (by state).
- Kampgrounds of America (KOA) keeps a list of their open campgrounds up to date.
- Recreation.gov offers a database of 3,600 facilities and activities and more than 103,000 individual reservation sites across the country.
- The U.S. Department of Transportation offers a map with national traffic and road closure information.
What countries are open to travelers?Many countries are still closed to travelers from the United States. A few, like Iceland and Jamaica, opened their borders on June 15. The European Union (EU) offers a map of open countries and which travelers are welcome. The Department of State currently advises all U.S. citizens to read the country-specific DoS Travel Advisories. In conjunction with the DoS, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also lists its travel recommendations here.
Is any destination safer than another?As the pandemic ebbs and flows, it is difficult to say if any one place is safe. You are going to have to take precautions no matter where you travel.
You will want to research your destination and make sure it isn’t one of the coronavirus “hot spots.”
Global Rescue offers a free Coronavirus Report, featuring updated information regarding outbreak locations, entry restrictions and advisories for the United States and more than 215 international countries. Deep Knowledge Group also provides safety assessments of 200 regions and rankings by region.
What activities are lower risk?Outdoor activities have a lower risk of coronavirus exposure than indoor activities. By avoiding the three Cs — confined spaces, crowds and close contact — you dramatically reduce the likelihood of contracting the virus.
Low-risk summer activities include hiking and biking — anything outdoors and alone (or with immediate family). Medium-risk summer activities include picnics, pools, festival and fairs — outdoor events with crowds of people. Indoor gatherings, such as concerts, movie theaters and nightclubs, are higher risk activities.
Global Rescue in-house experts recently offered some tips for outdoor recreation during social distancing.
“The same rules and safety guidelines for travel apply to outdoor summer activities,” said Jeffrey Weinstein, medical operations supervisor at Global Rescue. “Don’t relax your safety precautions just because you are outside.”
Is driving safer than flying?From the perspective of disease contagion, the answer is yes, but only because you can make the rules for the safety of your car — and you’ll never have this much control over your environment on a plane. Travel only with immediate family members, follow safety precautions inside (and outside) your vehicle and limit your stops.
What should I expect at the airport?Before booking travel, travelers should research the airline’s restrictions, recommendations and rules — and how they are being enforced.
“Travelers should call ahead to get the most up-to-date information, as it seems to change by the minute,” said Harding Bush, associate manager of operations at Global Rescue. “The whole trip could be ruined by relying on old and incorrect details and you may not be allowed to board the plane if you aren’t able to comply with the rules.”
One example is the screening measures by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) at the airport. If you’ve traveled recently, you’ve seen the stricter mask requirements from major airlines and the social distancing markers on the floor. This summer, passengers will be asked to scan their own boarding passes — both paper and electronic — instead of giving them to the TSA officer. After scanning, passengers will hold up their boarding pass so the TSA officer can visually inspect it.
What countries require proof of testing?This information will change but, in general, be prepared to have documentation for your current state of health.
“Some airlines need testing prior to travel or documentation that you haven’t faced an illness for the past two weeks,” Sioson said. “Be honest with your travel history. Make sure you are up to date with your routine vaccinations.”
What do I need to bring with me right now?These three items are a must: face mask, hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes.
We also wouldn’t advise traveling without a fourth item: a Global Rescue travel services membership. Our in-house intelligence, security and medical teams can help you on the front end, such as providing a risk assessment for a particular destination, and assist on the back end, in case you run into coronavirus restrictions or need an emergency medical evacuation.