Ron Williams wants to know if it’s safe to travel yet.
At 72, he’s in a high-risk group that makes him especially vulnerable to a coronavirus infection. But even if he weren’t, what kind of trip would it be?
“My wife and I like hanging out at the pool and visiting museums and shopping,” says Williams, a retired bank manager who lives in Ocala, Florida. “All of these activities are severely restricted or fraught with risk.”
He adds, “I’m not sure when we’ll travel again.”
Williams’ question is all too common. And it’s not the first time I’ve tried to answer it. This is the time of year when many Americans begin to think about holiday trips, spring break and maybe even next summer’s vacation. (For those of you who skipped this summer’s vacation, you have probably already started planning.)
Hit the road or plan a staycation
Bill McIntyre, a spokesperson for Global Rescue, a medical and security response service for travelers, says internal surveys of the organization’s members indicate a readiness to get back on the road. “Most travelers already have plans to go somewhere domestically by year’s end, and a majority say they’ll travel internationally sometime in 2021,” McIntyre says.
Talk to medical experts, and they will tell you to stay close to home. Manisha Juthani, an infectious-disease specialist at Yale University School of Medicine, says a person who wants to take one to two weeks off should make it a staycation or road trip, at least for now. “I personally do not recommend traveling far from home,” she says.
Juthani says the highly infectious nature of the novel coronavirus is to blame for her travel advisory. Outbreaks continue across the country, in part because people are traveling. One sign that it is safer to travel is if the test positivity rate at your destination is around 1%.
“If we can drive rates down everywhere in the country to around 1%, maybe we could travel with very low risk of bringing the virus elsewhere,” she says. “That’s the only way we will be able to travel again safely before a vaccine is available.”
The major benchmarks for travel safety
Of course, many Americans are already traveling, albeit cautiously.
“One of the trends we have already seen is increased travel by car and a real increase in people traveling in recreational vehicles with their families,” says Dale Bratzler, the University of Oklahoma’s chief COVID-19 officer.
But what about flying? “Airline travel is most certainly safer now than it was at the start of the pandemic,” Bratzler says. “However, transmission of the infection has clearly been documented during flights. If you are traveling by plane, you need to make sure you wear a mask from the time you arrive at the airport until you leave the airport at your destination.”
Despite these and other best practices for staying safe in transit, many travelers are unwilling to risk it until we reach one — or all — of the major benchmarks