Thanks to COVID-19 vaccine availability and low infection rates, summer travel is back on. After being cooped up for over a year and feeling isolated from friends and family, we’re all more anxious than ever to hit the road, take flight or set sail. In fact, TSA checkpoint numbers this June are about four times higher than last June.
The question on everyone’s mind is how to travel safely post COVID. And the key is getting vaccinated and checking the health landscape where you’re going. “Look at the number of cases, transmission rates, travel rules and mask protocols,” advised Dr. Jennifer Hanrahan, DO, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Toledo Physicians Group and ProMedica. “Everyone should get vaccinated unless they have a medical reason not to,” Dr. Hanrahan says. “These vaccines are incredibly good — even better than we’d hoped for in terms of effectiveness.”
Currently, the Food and Drug Administration has given emergency use authorization for COVID vaccines for ages 12 and older.
The Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) advises against traveling internationally unless you’re fully vaccinated. If you’re not vaccinated, please follow the CDC’s international travel recommendations for unvaccinated travelers.
To be considered fully vaccinated, be sure to follow the dosing schedule and wait two weeks after your second vaccine, whether it’s the Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Even for vaccinated people, international travel is more complicated. You must:
- Get tested no more than three days before you travel by air into the United States.
- Show your negative result to the airline before you board your flight.
If you’ve been sick while traveling, you’ll also need to show documentation of recovery – proof of a recent positive viral test and a letter from your healthcare provider or a public health official saying that you’ve been cleared for travel.
And, for now, you must provide documentation of a negative COVID test even if you’ve been vaccinated or have antibodies.
Before you plan an international trip, check the CDC site for updated information per country.
Because of low infection rates and high vaccination rates, traveling in the U.S. is a safer bet than traveling overseas. According to the CDC, the percentage of the U.S. adult population that has gotten at least one vaccination was about 64% at the beginning of June. “The number of people who’ve been sick from COVID and have antibodies also contributes to the overall protection in a community,” Dr. Hanrahan said.
Since these statistics vary in different pockets of the United States, be sure to check on the specifics of the state or city you’re visiting.
Airplanes and Hotels
At the beginning of the pandemic, so much was misunderstood and unknown about how the virus spread. One theory that has been debunked is transmission via surfaces. That makes staying in a hotel and flying in an airplane safer than we initially thought.
“In the beginning, people made a big deal about cleaning surfaces, which in general is a good thing, but the reality is that the coronavirus is not spread that way,” Dr. Hanrahan said. “If it were spread by touching contaminated surfaces, many more people would have gotten sick. So, the whole idea that you can get it from a hotel room is not something you need to be worried about.”
Of course, the more crowded the hotel, the higher your risk of infection through coronavirus droplets traveling through the air.
Airlines have taken many steps to purify the cabin air and ensure clean plans. However, studies have found transmission can still happen on airplanes, even with precautions, Dr. Hanrahan said. “If you’re not vaccinated and plan to fly, be sure to have a mask that fits well and keep it over your mouth and nose even while talking.”
Your Final Destination
“An outdoor location is always going to have a lower risk than an indoor one,” Dr. Hanrahan said. “This will also depend on your underlying risks and whether you’re on any chemotherapy or immunosuppressive therapy.”
Again, consider the local transmission rates and look at the safety measures taken if you plan to visit indoor sites or an amusement park. Being vaccinated is the safest bet for a healthy and meaningful summer vacation.
For COVID-19 updates from ProMedica, visit our website, promedica.org/covid.