For many families, vacations are a time to see relatives, relax and spend time together. When COVID‑19 first began to spread, many people canceled their existing travel plans. But as more people become vaccinated, travel is on the rise again.
Though planning a getaway after a challenging year is tempting, it's important to know that any travel still comes with the risk of contracting and spreading COVID‑19. If you do travel, you should take precautions to protect yourself, your family and others.
"With travel, there's always a risk," says Jeffrey Kahn, M.D., Director of Infectious Disease at Children's Health℠ and Professor at UT Southwestern. "If you're going to travel, the question is how do you reduce that risk as much as possible?"
Dr. Kahn shares advice on what to consider and ways to stay safe if you are planning travel during COVID‑19.
1. Get vaccinated
The most important precaution you can take before traveling is getting vaccinated. The COVID‑19 vaccine is a safe and effective way to prevent the spread of COVID‑19 and is available to everyone ages 6 months and older. In addition, everyone who is eligible should get a COVID-19 booster shot.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends delaying travel until you are fully vaccinated. If you are not fully vaccinated and must travel, the CDC recommends getting a COVID‑19 test before and after your trip. Regardless of vaccination status, avoid traveling if you have symptoms or test positive for COVID‑19.
2. Research your destination
Before you plan a vacation, research your destination to be sure you have current and accurate answers to the following questions:
- Are the numbers of new COVID‑19 cases going up or down?
- How many cases do they have there?
- How many people have been vaccinated?
- Does this destination require proof of vaccination and/or a negative COVID‑19 test for visitors?
- Does this destination require a period of quarantine for visitors?
- Does this destination require masks in public and/or indoor areas?
- Are new variants circulating in the location?
The CDC offers information about cases across the U.S., as well as travel recommendations for international destinations. It's important to know that the pandemic is rapidly changing and what was once a safe destination may not always be. In addition, if COVID‑19 is widespread in your community, this increases the chance you may spread COVID‑19 to others while you travel.
Wherever you go, always follow local guidelines, including mask mandates and COVID‑19 testing requirements.
3. Mask while traveling
Don’t forget to pack your mask when traveling. Masks are an important tool to prevent the spread of COVID‑19, and they are required in airports, airplanes and other areas of public transportation.
The CDC recommends that all people over the age of 2 who are not fully vaccinated wear a mask when in public indoor places. In addition, fully vaccinated people should continue to mask in public indoor places when in areas of substantial or high transmission. Lastly, people who have a weakened immune system should also continue wearing a mask even when fully vaccinated.
4. Know your family's risks and make safe decisions
Your family members are far more likely to get COVID‑19 if someone in your household brings it home. That's why you need to consider each member of your family when planning travel.
Is someone in your household too young to be vaccinated? Does someone in your household have a weakened immune system or a medical condition that increases their risk for severe COVID‑19 illness? If so, consider ways to reduce COVID‑19 risk if you choose to travel, such as:
- Drive to your destination instead of flying
- Pick up takeout food instead of dining in a restaurant
- Consider staying in a private vacation rental instead of at a hotel
- Choose outdoor activities whenever possible
- Wear masks when in public indoor or crowded areas
- Clean hands regularly with soap or antibacterial hand cleaner
5. Choose a destination that allows you to social distance
In addition to knowing how the virus affects your destination, think about how many people you will come into contact with on vacation. A crowded attraction may not be the best option, especially if you are traveling with unvaccinated kids. However, some destinations and activities can help your family stay isolated.
You might try family vacations such as:
- Renting a house near a secluded or uncrowded area
- Visiting fully vaccinated family
When renting a vacation spot, ask about any precautions or sanitation policies the owners are taking.
6. Screen your visitors
Even if you aren't traveling, family members may visit you. If both your family and your visitors are fully vaccinated, your risk for infection is low.
However, if your visitors are not vaccinated, you may want to ask questions like:
- Are you wearing a mask and washing your hands frequently when out?
- How many people have you come into contact with before visiting?
- Have you been sick or had a fever?
- Do you know anyone who is sick?
Ask any unvaccinated visitors to consider getting a COVID‑19 test before they visit. If possible, your unvaccinated visitors should avoid contact with other people for two weeks before they visit. Since this is not always possible, they should limit extra trips. Visitors should also wash their hands as soon as they arrive. These steps will help protect any young children in your house who cannot be vaccinated yet.
While we are all eager to return to life and travel “as normal,” it’s important to continue taking these steps to prevent the spread of COVID‑19. If you choose to travel, get fully vaccinated first and plan as much as possible to minimize your risk and keep your family safe.
More COVID‑19 resources
Children's Health is committed to remaining a trusted source of health information and care for you and your family during this time. See more resources to keep your family healthy at the Children's Health COVID‑19 hub.
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