How to Travel SAFELY During the Covid-19 Pandemic | Safety measures you need to know if you're traveling

coronavirus preventative mask types

        How can I travel safely during the pandemic? Staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others from COVID-19. But sometimes life isn't about choices. You could be traveling for an emergency for all I know. This post is solely to help inform those that have already decided to travel. Cause if you have to do it, I'd rather you do it right.




*I am not a medical specialist. All sources have been provided and linked. Please consult with your medical professional for additional up to date information.

        Before we even discuss travel, I believe it's important to understand some things about the virus to understand the safety measures you'll need to take.

Symptomatic vs Asymptomatic

        The only way to know if you're infected is to get properly tested because a large proportion of infected individuals don't show obvious symptoms (asymptomatic). Asymptomatic individuals can cause Covid-19 spikes because they behave as normal but can be just as contagious. To be safe when traveling, treat everyone as if they're infected and get tested periodically.

How are you exposed to the virus?

        You can only be exposed to the coronavirus by an infected individual. This can mean:

      • Direct physical contact - exchanging bodily fluids (kissing, sharing food, sex, etc)
      • Touching contaminated surfaces and then touching your face or food
      • Airborne exposure - breathing, talking, coughing, & sneezing

        The more closely you interact with others and the longer that interaction, the higher the risk of spreading the virus.

So what safety measures are important for your travels?


Planning Your Travel

        Are covid cases in your area high? Testing is the only way to know if you're infected. Test before your trip so you don't infect others.

        Are covid cases at your destination high? How crowded is your destination? Are you putting yourself at risk of bringing it back home? Will you need to quarantine when you return home (or test out)?

        Do you have the time to quarantine/test before and after your travels? Making sure your travels are responsible and safe can take time. How much time will you need for test results and quarantining? I'll explain below how to allot enough time for proper testing.

        Does your destination have outdoor activities? Choose outdoor activities and places where it’s easy to stay at least 6ft apart with good ventilation. "Recent research shows that in confined spaces there can be "airborne transmission" of the virus - with tiny virus particles lingering in the air." (source)

        Can your plans be cancelled if covid cases rise? A lot of businesses are now offering flexible cancellations. Make your plans flexible in the case that numbers rise or locations lockdown.


Getting Tested PROPERLY

         I've seen travelers test for the coronavirus right when they arrive at the destination either of their own volition or because their destination may require it. But what a lot of people may not understand is that testing right away may not accurately identify whether you've been infected.

        Your results can differ according to what type of test and when you're taking it. 

coronavirus viral load exposure chart

        This chart shows how "After an initial exposure, the number of virus particles in a person’s body, or viral load, takes time to build up..." (source)

        "Many of these screenings are rapid tests, delivering actionable results within minutes without needing to send samples to a laboratory. Such speed and convenience can come at the cost of accuracy: Rapid tests are worse at picking up on low viral loads and very recent infections, and more often produce false negatives or false positives." (source)

        So let's say you tested negative before leaving for your trip. Great! But now you have to get to your destination. This can mean going through airports and flights or taking a train/bus with other passengers where you are exposed. Now let's say you get infected during transit. If you test right when you arrive, because you were very recently infected, your viral load may still be very low. This means a test may not be able to detect the virus yet.

coronavirus tests detect different viral loads

        "If you are tested on the day you were infected, your test result is almost guaranteed to come back negative, because there are not yet enough viral particles in your nose or saliva to detect. The chance of getting a false negative test result decreases if you are tested a few days after you were infected, or a few days after you develop symptoms." (source)

        This is why alloting enough time for quarantines and testing can be so important. Exactly how long you should wait has yet to be accurately determined by experts, but some countries like Germany say "...testing negative, at the earliest after 5 days, means home quarantine is no longer required." (source)


Transportation

        We've established that testing when you arrive at your destination is important because you can be exposed during transportation. Airports, bus stations, train stations, gas stations, and rest stops are all places travelers can be exposed to the virus in the air and on surfaces.

        Traveling by car would allow you to have the least amount of contact with those outside of your household. Just make sure to reduce your stops. Stops along the way for gas, food, or bathroom breaks can put you in close contact with other individuals and frequently-touched surfaces.

        Traveling by air "requires spending time in security lines and airport terminals, which can bring you in close contact with other people and frequently touched surfaces. Most viruses and other germs do not spread easily on flights because of how air circulates and is filtered on airplanes. However, social distancing is difficult on crowded flights, and sitting within 6ft of others, sometimes for hours, may increase your risk of getting COVID-19." (source)

        Traveling by bus or train for any length of time can involve sitting or standing within 6 feet of others which increases your risk of infection. If you must travel by bus or train, consider traveling during non-peak hours when there are likely to be fewer people. Support businesses that require masks & distanced seating. For example, during our Venice trip, trains in Italy were required to distance passengers so aisle seats were blocked off to keep us apart. We also traveled during the weekdays during off hours so the trains were quite empty.

        Utilizing taxis and call for hire vehicles such as Uber or Lyft could be a high risk. You are guaranteed close contact with somebody outside of your household in an enclosed area.

  1. Don’t ride in a vehicle if the driver is not properly wearing a face mask.
  2. Avoid shared rides where multiple passengers are picked up who are not in the same household.
  3. Try to touch as little as possible, and don't accept things such as free water bottles.
  4. Sit as far as possible from the driver, such as in the rear seat diagonally across from the driver.
  5. You can also ask the driver to improve the ventilation in the vehicle if possible — for example, by opening the windows or setting the air conditioning on non-recirculation mode.


Social Distancing

        Social distancing is one of the most important factors in Covid prevention. A sneeze can spray out to 27 feet (source). A cough can spray out to 19 feet. Even just breathing and talking sprays droplets that can stay in the air for 8-14 minutes (source).

        So why is the general distancing guideline 6 feet? Dr. Paul Pottinger, an infectious disease professor at the University of Washington School of Medicine, said “The biggest threat – we think – with the coronavirus is actually the larger droplets. Droplets of saliva, snot, spit. Droplets that almost look like rain, if you will, when someone sneezes. Those droplets are large enough that gravity still acts on them. Usually, within about six feet of leaving somebody’s body, those larger, more infectious droplets will drop to the ground. That’s where the six-foot rule comes from.” (source)

        But other researchers, such as Dr. Lydia Bourouiba, an associate professor at MIT, believe it's not enough. "Although there remains a lot of questions to be addressed about how much virus is at a given distance or not, we have no answer one way or another at this time," she said. (source)

        In conclusion, it seems the further you are from other individuals, the better. The safest trip would be one where you avoid other people entirely. "Of all the precautions you can take while out in public or traveling, maintaining physical distance from others outside of your household is still the most important to curtail the spread of COVID-19," says Dr. Joyce Sanchez, an infectious disease specialist and medical director of the Travel Health Clinic at Froedtert and the Medical College of Wisconsin.

        If you really have to come into contact with a person, keep it short and distanced with masks on - even if it's not required.


Mask Up

        I'm sure we're all aware of this one. Masks have been proven to significantly slow down the spread of the coronavirus. But did you know that masks are better at protecting others rather than the wearer? Depending on the type of mask, they're not good at keeping viruses out, but they're great at muffling what comes out of us. So if everyone wears a mask, we are all protecting one another.

        "The science is simple. “Wearing masks drastically drops the distance that droplets travel, thereby protecting individuals that come close to us,” says (Dr. Joyce) Sanchez, adding “the overwhelming majority of people, including those with chronic lung and heart problems, can safely wear them. Their use does not affect the body’s oxygen or carbon dioxide levels.” (source)


Why masks are important during Covid pandemic

        The CDC recommends wearing a mask whenever you're around anyone not part of your household. Even outdoors.

  • In your own backyard with your household only? No masks needed.
  • In your own backyard with friends not in your household? Masks and strict physical distancing.
  • In an empty park? No masks needed.
  • In a busy park? Masks.
  • Walking down a crowded street in a city? Masks.
  • Walking on a quiet street where you can stay more than 6 feet away from anyone? Have a mask on hand in case you can no longer stay at a distance.


How to choose your covid mask
Source: CDC US 2020


        So what type of masks should we be wearing? The CDC has published the visual guideline above to help us choose the best masks. They currently recommend cloth masks because surgical masks and N95 respirators are considered critical supplies that could be reserved for healthcare workers. 

        N95s are technically respirators, not masks. When fitted and worn properly, they can remove particles from the air before you breathe it in making it vital for healthcare professionals that are in close contact with those infected. N95s must be approved by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to ensure that they work properly.

        You may have also seen respirators classified as KN95s, but are not NIOSH-approved. These are regulated by China. Normally, these are not allowed to substitute for N95 masks in the US. However, the FDA authorized use of KN95s as an alternative because of N95 shortages.

        Rather than filtering the air coming in like respirators, surgical masks and cloth masks mainly function to prevent the wearer from spraying out droplets. Even though these masks don't directly protect us from incoming exposure, if everyone wears a mask, we are being indirectly protected from others. Wearing masks in public areas can also prevent individuals from depositing viruses onto shared surfaces.

        But are all cloth masks created equal? A recent study tested a variety of fabric types and found that tight-weave 100% cotton is the best option. The CDC also recommends masks with multiple layers. And because cloth masks function more to keep particles from leaving us, masks with exhalation valves would defeat the purpose.

        With all of this information, you've now chosen a proper mask. But what about upkeep? Should you wash it after every use? “It’s definitely recommended to wash that mask every day,” said Dr. Ravina Kullar, an infectious disease specialist and epidemiologist. Kullar points out that the purpose of the mask is to prevent the virus from spreading, so if there are virus particles on yours, wearing an unwashed mask is counterproductive." (source)

        "Cloth masks can be washed by hand or in a washing machine. Surgical masks, another popular option, cannot be washed and should be discarded after one use. There is very little peer-reviewed information about how to wash an N95 mask." (source

        But over time, washes can make your cloth mask more porous and lose its usefulness. “Depending on the fabric, and of course that’s the million-dollar question with a handmade mask, but most fabrics are very durable for about 100 washes if they’re not in the dryer,” says Patric Richardson, the "Laundry Evangelist." So make sure to replace your cloth masks on occassion.


Stay Outdoors

        As mentioned earlier, staying away from others is one of the safest things we can do right now. And staying outside helps us keep our distance. But some people have asked, what if the cafe is empty and there's only a few staff working. Can we relax in there?

         How much you're at risk depends on the length of time, amount of air circulation, number of people, how far others are from you, and so on. Aerosols (small particles) can stay suspended in the air so if they're not quickly diluted with fresh air, your exposure risk is much higher.



        The CDC says, "There is evidence that under certain conditions, people with COVID-19 seem to have infected others who were more than 6 feet away. These transmissions occurred within enclosed spaces that had inadequate ventilation. Sometimes the infected person was breathing heavily, for example while singing or exercising. Under these circumstances, scientists believe that the amount of infectious smaller droplet and particles produced by the people with COVID-19 became concentrated enough to spread the virus to other people. The people who were infected were in the same space during the same time or shortly after the person with COVID-19 had left." (source)

        Since you're probably not aware of how well ventilated a business could be, experts would suggest you minimize your time indoors. Plan your trip around outdoor activities and restaurants with outdoor seating. Plan your meals before rush time so that you can have the area to yourselves or if the restaurant is busy, grab it togo and eat at your hotel or an empty park nearby.


Hygiene

        We all know washing our hands as much as possible is a good preventative, but are you washing it properly for long enough? The CDC states, "Scientific studies show that you need to scrub for 20 seconds to remove harmful germs and chemicals from your hands. If you wash for a shorter time, you will not remove as many germs. Make sure to scrub all areas of your hands, including your palms, backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your fingernails." (source)


hand washing comic strip

        Hopefully, you're pretty good at remembering to wash your hands now, but are you washing your hands only to then touch contaminated items like your phone or your mask? Are you crumpling up your mask into your pockets and then rewearing them without checking which side is which? These are the questions you can ask yourself to practice better hygiene.

        Packing disinfecting products for your trip is a good idea. Disinfect any areas you'll be at for prolonged periods of times - such as your plane seat. When you arrive at your accommodation, disinfect high-touch surfaces, such as doorknobs, light switches, countertops, tables, desks, phones, remote controls and faucets.

        “Most accommodations have implemented extra precautions and cleaning services,” says Dr. Abe Malkin, founder and medical director of health care provider Concierge MD LA. Check websites for details or ask. It doesn’t matter whether a hotel is a chain motel or a boutique inn. It’s more important that the property has a good record and follows recommended guidelines." (source)

        Thanks for sticking with me this far! I know that was A LOT of information. But if you're choosing to travel during this pandemic, I believe it's responsible to do the best we can to not only keep ourselves safe, but also those around us. You never know who you could be putting at risk. And remember, these precautions alone are flawed, but all together, they can make a huge difference.


preventing covid spread

*I am not a medical specialist. All sources have been provided and linked. Please consult with your medical professional for additional up to date information.

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