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If you’re itching to see family or go on vacation, follow these tips to keep everyone safer.

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Traveling has become much more complicated in the COVID-19 era. Whether you plan to take a trip to see your family nearby or vacation in a distant location, the risk of getting or spreading the coronavirus increases when you are around others who are not part of your household.

Knowing you or loved ones have been vaccinated against COVID-19 may have you finalizing your travel plans – or you may have decided that enough is enough and you just need a change of scenery and are deciding to travel against recommendations from health experts. Either way, keep these things in mind before you hit the road or fly the friendly skies so everyone stays safer.

“Even though we continue to make significant strides in the fight against COVID, we should still avoid activities that place us at higher risk of acquiring infection.  Air travel is one of those risks and we recommend avoiding unnecessary travel if possible.  If you must travel by air, it is important to take measures to protect yourself and those around you.  You must still wear a mask in all airports and airplanes, despite vaccination or prior infection status.  Most airlines will offer you a disinfecting wipe to clean the armrest, tray table,  seatbelts, etc.; use it!  Be sure to wash your hands regularly or use hand sanitizer often. Once you do get to your destination, continue to physical distance and avoid crowded indoor places or events.  Although we are improving the numbers of patients vaccinated daily, it will take a significant number of vaccinations and time before we can achieve herd immunity, but we are close. There is light at the end of the tunnel, and we need to remain vigilant—wear your mask, wash your hands, physical distance (at least 6 feet), stay home when sick, and get vaccinated when it is your turn.”

-Dr. Tatiana C. Saavedra, Infectious Disease 

Travel Risks

It’s safer to put off travel if you have one or more risk factors that increase the likelihood of serious complications or death from the coronavirus and haven’t yet been vaccinated. Risk factors include:

      • Age. People aged 65 or older are more at risk of getting sicker.
      • Weight. Overweight and obese people are at increased risk of COVID-19 complications.
      • Underlying conditions. It may be harder for your body to fight the virus if you have heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, kidney disease, an immune system condition, are pregnant or have another underlying health issue.

It’s also important to investigate the status of virus spread and hospital capacity at your destination. Spread may be low where you live but not where you’re headed. If hospitals are at or near full capacity, it may be difficult to get the care you need if you get COVID-19, or if you get sick or injured while away.

Vaccination Status

Getting the COVID-19 vaccine will greatly reduce your chance of becoming sick if you’re exposed to the virus. Keep in mind that you’ll only develop partial immunity after the first dose of a two-dose vaccine, such as the ones from Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech. A few weeks after getting both doses, the vaccines are reported to be up to 95% effective.

Infectious disease experts suggest that at least 60-70% of the population needs to be immune to COVID-19 before we achieve herd immunity. But it will probably be the middle to late part of 2021 before there’s enough vaccine available in the U.S. to reach herd immunity.

How to Protect Yourself and Others When You Travel

If you decide to travel, these tips will make your trip a little safer for everyone:

      • Wear a mask and practice social distancing. You’ll likely be protected if you’ve received the vaccine, but that doesn’t mean others around you will be. Researchers aren’t sure yet if vaccinated people will be able to spread COVID-19 to others if they’re exposed to the virus but don’t develop symptoms. So continue to wear a mask and practice social distancing until the majority of people in the U.S. are vaccinated.
      • Wash your hands. Washing your hands frequently (or using hand sanitizer) is a simple way to reduce your risk of catching the coronavirus, as well as other illnesses.
      • Avoid large gatherings. The more people at an event, the more likely the virus will spread. So whether you’re traveling to see family or to sightsee, try to limit the number of people you will be around at any event or location.
      • Stay outdoors as much as possible. Wind currents scatter coronavirus droplets, reducing your exposure to the virus. This makes it safer for you to visit with people, dine or engage in other activities if you stay outdoors rather than gathering inside.
      • Stick to personal transportation. Driving your own car, rather than traveling by train, bus or airplane, may help you decrease your exposure to COVID-19. The more you can control your surroundings, the better.
      • Get tested. Take a coronavirus test 3-5 days before your trip. Don’t travel if you test positive or feel sick.
      • Quarantine when you return. Follow local quarantine recommendations when you return home. If you were exposed to the virus during your trip, you may not develop symptoms for several days or longer.

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Date Last Reviewed: January 14, 2021

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD

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