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Understanding the risks of travel during COVID-19

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In some ways, much has changed since the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic when we were under even stricter lockdowns than we’re currently facing.

In other ways, much is the same: The virus is still here and every bit as contagious as in those early days; older adults and people with underlying health conditions continue to run a higher risk for serious illness; and both infections and deaths remain on the rise in many states across the country.

And, at the same time, as the holidays approach, we’re entering some of the most popular travel months in the United States, when many Americans hop in the car or on a plane to visit family and friends. This raises a couple of questions: Is it safe to travel between states? And how can we reduce the risk of contracting the virus while traveling?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) puts it simply on their website: “Travel increases your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19.” Thanks to studies, we now know travel from early outbreaks in places like New York City and Washington State was a big part of the domestic spread of COVID-19 in the spring.

“We now have enough data to feel pretty confident that New York was the primary gateway for the rest of the country,” Dr. Nathan Grubaugh, an epidemiologist at the Yale School of Public Health told the New York Times in early May.

But what did we learn from the early outbreaks? And are there ways, if we choose to travel, to reduce our risks this fall and winter?

Check the COVID-19 status of your destination

The more COVID-19 cases at your destination, the more likely you are to become infected and spread the virus to others. Fortunately, the CDC provides a tracker for checking  COVID-19 cases and deaths by state. This should give you a clear picture of the severity of the COVID-19 outbreak in the state you’re planning to visit.

Know the rules of the road

Each state and city is approaching the response to COVID-19 differently. From mask mandates to travel restrictions, it’s important to check state and local public health websites for information before you travel. Be sure your destination is accepting visitors in the first place and prepare to abide by any safety measures they have in place.

Maintain best practices

Whether you’re in your hometown or on the road, the same safety recommendations apply. Wear a mask to keep your nose and mouth covered in public. Stay at least six feet apart from anyone who isn’t in your household. Wash your hands frequently and avoid touching your nose and mouth. Check out the CDC’s complete list of recommendations to protect yourself and others.

Consider your mode of transportation

Do you plan to travel by car, bus, plane, or RV? Each mode of transportation comes with its own set of risks. Getting on a plane requires security checks and airport terminals. Traveling by car or RV means stops for gas, food, and bathroom breaks. The CDC offers different considerations for each type of travel on their website.

No matter what, traveling this fall and winter requires more planning and precautions than it did before COVID. Don’t travel if you are sick, or if you have been around someone with COVID-19 in the past 14 days. If you are going to travel, weigh the risks of your trip and decide what level of exposure you’re willing to accept. If we’re careful, we can avoid contracting the virus and spreading it to the people we love. And, remember, we’re all in this together!

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