Should I travel? Expert advice in this phase of the pandemic
(CNN) – An already strong desire to travel has only intensified with the global erosion of pandemic restrictions and the availability of vaccines in some countries.
And the summer travel season is fast approaching in the Northern Hemisphere.
In the United States, many people – as seen in the crowds of spring breaks in Florida and the most recent passengers at airport security checkpoints – are already on the move, whether they have been vaccinated or not.
Some Americans are waiting for CDC travel guidance for the fully vaccinated, while others who have taken their photos are already traveling or planning.
People are asking from different parts of the world: “Can I travel – and should I?” The answers are never universal.
In Sweden, which has overturned lockout measures imposed by its Nordic neighbors and suffered a higher death toll, the Public Health Service website emphasizes “great personal responsibility” for travelers to follow local guidance and prevent the spread of mumps.
In the UK, travel – domestic or international – is currently banned by the government. In Ireland, citizens must stay within a 5 km radius of their homes for exercise. The United States clearly has far fewer traffic restrictions.
When and how far you can travel – and whether the choice is yours – depends on where you live and, in many cases, on your own risk tolerance.
The spring break has sparked tensions in Miami Beach, Florida, over concerns about the spread of viruses.
Joe Raedle / Getty Images
Do I have to travel?
Medical experts often avoid answering yes or no, but CNN medical analyst Dr. Leana Wen called on the CDC’s recent advice to vaccinated Americans to avoid traveling “too cautiously in a way that defies common sense.”
There is a low risk of receiving or transmitting coronavirus during transportation, especially when people are traveling in a private vehicle, said Wen, an emergency physician and visiting professor at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health. Air travel, especially when everyone is covered, is also quite safe, he said.
“If travel is a very low risk in itself, why can’t we say that fully vaccinated people can travel to different parts of the country to visit their relatives, as long as they do not collect a lot of unvaccinated people who are in different households? “
CDC guidance allows vaccinated people to gather indoors without masks with other vaccinated people or with unvaccinated people from another household, Wen notes.
The CDC has said it plans to release travel guides for vaccinated Americans soon.
Even those who have not been vaccinated can travel relatively safely, Wen said, if they are going to see another family.
“This is low risk and there are ways for people who have not been vaccinated to do it safely. For example, they can be quarantined and tested before the trip,” he said.
Tony Johnston, who comes to the question “should I travel” from Ireland for tourism rather than medicine, has a definitive answer in the other direction.
We do not have to travel yet, he says.
“People have to be careful and conservative for other months. The big reward, if people are patient, is that the international tourism industry will reopen sooner rather than later,” said Johnston, who heads the hospitality department. tourism and leisure studies at the Athlone Institute of Technology.
Another wave of the virus could jeopardize this opening, he said, noting that Ireland’s hospitality industry is still completely closed. Politicians are calling for a very cautious restart, given the number of hospitalizations and deaths in the country after Christmas.
Many Americans are ready to travel, with a record number of pandemic passengers this month at US airports.
Scott Olson / Getty Images
What happens when you get there is the key
For those planning to travel, what you do when you arrive at your destination is often more of a concern than transportation, said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee.
“The most careful way to travel is by car, because you can create a protection cocoon, you can run in and out of toilets, you can take food, you can take wipes with you when you wipe the gas pump when you refill the tank.
“But once again, what you do wherever you go increases the risk.”
Florida spring breakers gather on the beach outside, but then go to bars and restaurants “and then have a drink or three and the masks come out, and talk enthusiastically and are close to other people indoors for extended periods of time, said Schaffner.
Travelers intending to engage in higher-risk activities should ideally wait until they are vaccinated, Wen said, “and even then try to pick and choose your activities because you do not want to do all the high-risk activities together.”
Caution is essential – for unvaccinated and vaccinated travelers
Remember, vaccinations are not “armor,” says Schaffner. It is also important to wear masks and maintain social distance as much as possible.
Schaffner and his wife recently spoke with three other couples they know, all of whom have been fully vaccinated and have upcoming travel plans.
His wife recently drove to Florida with a friend who was very attentive and tried in advance to attend some business at their home there.
“They were absolutely meticulous about security,” he said. They ate most of their meals at home, with the exception of one lunch in “a completely outdoor location where there were virtually no other people.”
If you have not been vaccinated and engage in higher risk behaviors while away, you should quarantine and then try as soon as you get home, Wen said.
The best advice for anyone planning to travel soon?
First of all, “do what you can to get vaccinated. Number 2, if you can not get vaccinated, try before you go to make sure you are negative. And number 3, where are you going and what do you intend to do? Be as “Be as careful as possible,” says Schaffner.
He has a colleague who signs every phone call with, “Stay out of the bars!”
Good advice, he says.