Should I travel? Expert advice in this phase of the pandemic
(CNN) – An already strong pent-up desire to travel has only increased with the global fatigue of pandemic restrictions and the introduction of vaccines in some countries.
And the summer travel season is fast approaching in the northern hemisphere.
People from different parts of the world ask, “Can I travel – and should I?” The answers are never universal.
In the United States, as seen in the crowds of Florida night owls and the latest passenger numbers at the airport security checkpoints, many people are already out and about, whether they are vaccinated or not.
“Fully vaccinated travelers are less likely to get and spread Covid-19,” said the long-awaited guidelines released April 2 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency sets precautions for vaccinated travelers for domestic and international travel.
The CDC continues to advise against non-essential travel altogether, said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, when the new guidelines were published.
“We haven’t changed our guidelines for unnecessary travel at all. We currently do not recommend travel, especially for people who have not been vaccinated,” said Walensky
In Sweden, where lockdown measures imposed by its Scandinavian neighbors have been skipped and the death toll has increased, the health department’s website stresses travelers’ “great personal responsibility” to follow local instructions and prevent the spread of infection prevent.
In the UK, most travel – domestic or international – is currently banned by the government, although some domestic travel is expected to be allowed in mid-April. The United States has significantly fewer restrictions on movement.
When and how far you can travel – and whether you have the choice – depends on where you live and, in many cases, on your own risk tolerance.
The spring break has sparked tension in Miami Beach, Florida over virus transmission concerns.
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Shall i travel
According to Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency doctor and visiting professor at George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health, is at low risk of getting or transmitting coronavirus during transportation, especially when people travel by private vehicle.
Air travel, especially when everyone is masked, is pretty safe too, she said.
Wen criticized the CDC’s “overly cautious” delay in issuing travel guidelines for vaccinated Americans. This guide has now been published, taking extra caution when traveling internationally.
Even those who haven’t been vaccinated can travel relatively safely if their goal is to see another family, Wen said.
“It’s a low risk and there are ways for unvaccinated people to still do it safely. For example, they can quarantine and get tested before they travel,” she said.
Tony Johnston, who comes from Ireland from a tourist rather than a medical point of view, to the question “should I travel” has a definitive answer in the other direction.
We shouldn’t be traveling yet, he says.
“People have to remain cautious and conservative for a few more months. The big price, if people are patient, is that the international tourism industry will reopen sooner rather than later,” said Johnston, director of the hospitality, tourism and leisure tourism department at the Athlone Institute of Technology.
Another wave of the virus could jeopardize this reopening, he said. Politicians in Ireland are calling for a very cautious reopening given the skyrocketing number of hospitalizations and deaths in the country after Christmas.
Many Americans are ready to travel, with a record number of passengers from the pandemic at US airports this month.
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What happens when you get there is key
For those looking to travel, what you do when you get to your destination is often a bigger problem than what happens in transit, said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee.
“The most cautious way to travel is by car because you can create a cocoon of protection, you can run in and out of toilets, you can get food driven through, you can take towels with you when you wipe the pump when you fill the tank back on.
“But again, it is what you do, where you go, that increases your risk.”
Florida spring breakers congregate outside on the beach, but then they go to bars and restaurants. “Then they have a drink or three and the masks come off. They speak with enthusiasm and stand near other people in closed rooms for long periods of time,” said Schaffner.
While the CDC encourages unvaccinated travelers to stay home, the agency has set out important considerations and safety measures for those who feel they need to travel. It also looks at different aspects of travel – from transportation to groceries to accommodation – and ranks the approaches from safest to least safe for each.
Travelers planning higher-risk activities should ideally wait to be vaccinated, Wen said, “and even then try to choose your activities because you don’t want to do everything together that poses a high risk.”
Caution is advised – for unvaccinated and vaccinated travelers
Remember that vaccinations are not “armor,” says Schaffner. It’s still important to wear masks and keep social distance as much as possible.
Schaffner and his wife recently spoke to three other known couples, all of whom have been fully vaccinated and have upcoming travel plans.
His wife recently drove to Florida with a friend who was very careful and pre-tested to run a business in their home there.
“They were absolutely meticulous” about security, he said. They ate most of their meals at home, with the exception of a late lunch in a “totally open air location with essentially no other people around”.
If you are not vaccinated and are engaging in higher risk behaviors while you are away, quarantine and then get tested once you get home, Wen said.
The best advice for anyone looking to travel soon?
First off, “Please do everything you can to get vaccinated. Number 2: If you can’t get vaccinated, get tested before you go to make sure you’re negative. And number 3, where are you going.” and what are you doing?” Please be as careful as possible, “says Schaffner.
He has a colleague who answers every call with “Stay out of the bars!” Signed out.
Good advice, he says.
CNN’s Jacqueline Howard contributed to this report.