Despite increasing Covid-19 infections in the US, Europe and beyond, people are preparing to travel in late 2020.
According to a survey by the travel booking app Hopper, 39% of Americans are expected to travel in the upcoming holiday season. According to this estimate, there will be almost 130 million people in the US alone before the end of the year.
After a stressful and vacationless year homebound and tired, many in America are at least just simply not ready to spend Christmas and Thanksgiving with loved ones, regardless of the coronavirus count.
CNBC’s Global Traveler asked doctors for medical advice on how travelers and hosts can celebrate more safely for the next seven weeks.
1. Find out who is gathering
It’s important to understand how much risk a family can tolerate, said Dr. William Lang, former White House doctor and current medical director of the telemedicine practice WorldClinic. Start by assessing the age and health of the participants.
“A younger family with all healthy members and no recognized higher risk factors may be at slightly higher risk than a multi-generational family where some of the older members have chronic diseases,” he said.
A group of younger family members can potentially get together safely, as can a group of older, Covid-wary relatives. But young people who want to gather around their parents and grandparents need to be especially careful.
“Unfortunately,” said Lang, “this is not the year for large, cross-generational holiday get-togethers with families from distant places.”
2. Quarantine before the trip
“The only accepted way to practically rule out risks is a 14-day strict quarantine,” said Lang. “But that’s not practical in most families, and especially with young adults, it probably just wouldn’t happen.”
He said young adults should at least minimize social activities – “especially bar-like activities” – in the 10 days leading up to their departure home.
3. If possible, drive
Dr. Anne Rimoin, a professor of epidemiology at UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, said that while air travel carries minimal risk of contracting the coronavirus, there is “more to flying than just sitting on a plane”.
“You have to go through [security]Wait in seating areas and queues to get in and use the public bathrooms, “she said.” You also have no control over who you sit next to, which also determines your risk. “
While flying is considered fairly safe, driving is recommended during this holiday season.
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Lang agrees that it is “fairly safe” to fly, but that getting through the airport and onto the plane is riskier. To avoid being “squashed in the aisle”, he advises passengers to stay in their seats until it is their turn to disembark.
Driving is currently the safest way to travel, said Dr. Diego Hijano, associate faculty member of the Infectious Diseases Division at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
“Pretend that both you and anyone you meet in transit can be contagious and remain vigilant,” he said. “Pack all groceries and snacks for the trip.”
4. Quarantine on arrival
To reduce risks, wait five days before integrating into the family environment, Lang advised.
Waiting like this “reduces the risk of undetected infection by about 50%,” he said. “And if you add a test to that – at the end of the five days – you can reduce the risk by another 25%.”
Hijano warned that a negative Covid-19 test should not be viewed as “fail-safe confirmation that you are not sick”. He recommends only quarantining people on arrival if they believe they may be exposed to the virus. In this case you should cancel the trip immediately.
If this seems excessive, it only takes one person to infect the group.
For many, home is a paradise. But for everyone’s safety, the precautions on arrival should be increased rather than relaxed.
Travelers should wear a mask – including with their own family members, Lang said – and avoid close contact with family members at risk, especially indoors.
Not everyone is out this year; According to a survey by Hopper, 21% of people said they would not travel this year, when they usually do.
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Younger people returning to their hometown often hang out with old friends. Lang’s advice on this: don’t do it this year. He said group activities like going to bars and parties should be minimized this season.
“These are the events with the highest risk,” he said.
Hosts need to “establish rules in advance,” said St. Jude’s Hijano.
He recommends planning a small meeting for a shorter duration than usual. Avoid hugs and handshakes when guests arrive, he said. Set tables and chairs apart, and insist that guests wear masks, stay socially distant, and wash their hands.
“Remember that outside is always better than inside,” said Hijano. “If outdoor space isn’t possible, use a large, well-ventilated space and consider opening a window.”
If possible, celebrate outside and limit the amount of food that is served.
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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend making holiday gatherings small enough to keep guests two meters apart at all times. Music should be kept quiet (to prevent people from shouting to be heard), trash cans should be contactless, and guests should not touch pets. according to CDC recommendations.
Serving food, a central part of most holiday gatherings, is complicated. The CDC encourages guests to bring food and drinks. Potluck-like meals should be avoided.
If food is offered, a person should serve, including divisible items like salad dressings and condiments. All bed linen, including seat covers and tablecloths, should be washed immediately after the event.
Finally, hosts should remind guests to stay home if they’re sick or exposed to Covid-19, Hijano said.
It’s safer to stay home and share the vacation with people who live in our own household, Hijano said.
This year, he plans to cook a Thanksgiving dinner and watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade with his immediate family while virtually sharing the events with others.
“It is important to … have tough conversations now with the people you care about most about the possibility of you having to be separated, especially if you have a family member with risk factors for severe Covid-19” so Hijano said.
“While we’re all sick of connecting online, it’s the safest way to go,” he said.