If you’re a retiree considering summer travel either domestically or overseas, and you’re hesitating, it’s no surprise – there’s plenty to consider.
“When considering travel, weigh the risks,” says Dr. Stuart Campbell Ray, MD, professor of medicine with experience in COVID-19 at Johns Hopkins Medicine.
Nobody wants to get sick on vacation. However, if you are traveling when the variables of COVID-19 continue into the third year, how much risk are you willing to take and what precautions are recommended?
“It’s a complicated computation,” Ray says.
In general, you want to keep yourself and your loved ones safe. “For some people, travel is a huge part of life,” Ray says. “If you wait until the right time to travel, you may never do it.”
Despite the pandemic, committed travelers and even those who want to visit family and friends are finding ways to keep traveling.
Jenny, 69, and her husband, Ron, 71, wanted to see their son in two and a half years. Their daughter traveled with them. She wasn’t a “happy flyer” even before the pandemic, in April, she agreed to fly anyway. “We did everything we could do” to mitigate the risks, says Jenny, who preferred to use only her first name. Both got a second batch, wore masks on board and at the airport, ate outdoors as much as possible, and booked first-class seats with their reward points to increase social distancing. “At some point you say, ‘Let’s go now,'” she says. “We haven’t seen him in two and a half years and that’s not so good with us. It was worth wrapping my arms around him again,” she says.
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The federal mask for wearing masks on planes and public transportation expired May 3. Now, the use of masks is recommended but not mandatory. Many see that because you don’t need to wear a mask, but it’s “more subtle than that,” Ray says. “Unfortunately, we have not normalized mask wearing.”
The truth is that COVID-19 is on the rise here in the US, “There’s a lot of transmission going on here in the US,” says Ray. We all deal with these gradations of risk. There is a surge, but it’s not as bad as the other increases,” he says. With vaccines and boosters, “we have a lot of immunity to severe diseases.”
The second enhancer means an additional reinforcer after a person has obtained the first two Moderna mRNA,
or Pfizer PFE,
screenshots (or one of Johnson & Johnson JNJ,
shot), the initial booster.
“Get the shots you deserve. If you’re 50 or older you qualify for a second booster shot,” says pulmonologist and critical care physician Joseph Khabaza, MD, of the Cleveland Clinic. “Once cases start to go up a little bit, go and get a second booster dose.”
Unless you’re immunocompromised due to taking certain medications like rituximab, for example, to treat cancer, or you have an immunodeficiency, “you’re supposed to have a normal immunity,” says Khabaza. A combination of vaccines and boosters and a properly fitted mask will provide you with a reasonable degree of protection.
However, if someone in your family is immunocompromised, there is more to consider when you travel during COVID-19. “It’s not just about you,” Ray V. Hopkins says. “It’s about the people you love and care about. You don’t want to expose them.” If your household includes an immunocompromised person, “your caution may need to be higher.”
Keep these points in mind:
It’s not so much about where you travel as it is about how to protect yourself when you’re there. “Be very careful with yourself,” Ray says, rather than focusing on ranking each county individually. For example, if you’re traveling to New York City, “wear a quality mask while you’re there.” More broadly, “local risks become less important if you can manage your risk by carefully wearing a mask, not a cloth mask,” he says.
Khabaza says, “If there is a barrier covering your nose and mouth, you will be less likely to get an infection. Masks are known to be more valuable when the swatches are high.” You want to avoid contact with “particles and droplets,” he says. If you are considering international travel, check the US State Department website. For information about medical assistance abroad, visit the Department of State’s website on overseas travel, or the CDC’s website on international travel. For information about cruises, the CDC offers advice here.
Make sure your mask fits properly. “Blue is very good,” says Ray. “If they’re pressing on both sides they’re not good.” Your mask should lie flat against your face to enable you to breathe “through the mask, not around it,” he says. “It is important to be comfortable everywhere. Change the mask every day.” Ray recommends using a KF94 or KN95 mask, as long as it’s not a fake mask.
Get rid of the mask periodically. “Change up your mask with some regularity because they saturate,” Ray says. You can dry them in a paper bag. If the mask is wet, throw it away.
Air filters are different for different types of transportation. Airplanes are usually equipped with High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters that remove most particulates including viruses and bacteria from the air before they are recycled into the cabin. Amtrak has beefed up its safety protocols during the pandemic, and is equipped with internal filtration systems with a fresh air exchange rate every 4-5 minutes, according to Amtrak. “You can make your own filtering,” Ray says. “Put on a mask.”
Staying in a hotel is relatively safe. “In a hotel, it wouldn’t be a big deal if you only wore a mask when you were in your room,” Ray says. Wear a mask while riding in the elevator.
A second booster can make a difference. “It seems wise,” Ray says. “Be safer. It appears to reduce the risk of infection and severe illness.”