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Preparing for the holiday season: Travel and safety

During the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic and nationwide lockdown, many families have been separated, unable to visit each other for some of life’s most important moments, like birthdays, weddings and funerals. Now, as the one-year anniversary of the first COVID-19 reports in January 2020 approaches, states are easing restrictions, and frankly, people are tired of the stay-at-home orders. The American Automobile Association (AAA) predicts that fewer than 50 million Americans will hit the road for the holidays this year. While that number is drastically down from the past holiday season, there is still a significant amount of people traveling via planes, trains and automobiles.

Photo by Olu Gbade

“Based on mid-October forecast models, AAA would have expected up to 50 million Americans to travel for Thanksgiving — a drop from 55 million in 2019,” the travel group says. “However, as the holiday approaches and Americans monitor the public health landscape, including rising COVID-19 positive case numbers, renewed quarantine restrictions, and CDC travel health notices, AAA expects the actual number of holiday travelers will be even lower.”

With millions of people predicted to stay closer to home over the holidays to protect themselves and their loved ones, AAA estimates that there will be a 10% decrease in travel, which would be the greatest drop since the recession of 2008.

AAA is advising its customers to consider these things before heading out across the country:

  • Plan Ahead. Check with state and local authorities where you live, along your route, and at your planned destination to learn about local circumstances and any restrictions that may be in place.
  • Follow Public Health Guidance. Consistent use of face masks combined with social distancing (at least six feet) and regular handwashing is the best way to lower your risk of contracting COVID-19. Be sure to pack face masks, disinfecting wipes, hand sanitizer and a thermometer to help protect and monitor your health. Also, pack water and extra snacks to reduce the need to stop along your trip.
  • Verify Before You Go. Call ahead to minimize any last-minute surprises. 
    • Hotels  Prior to any hotel stay, call ahead to ensure your hotel is open and ask what precautions they are taking to protect guests. Ask about social distancing protocols like capacity reductions in common spaces, hotel staff requirements to wear masks at all times and if all amenities are available, like restaurant dining.
    • Car rentals  If renting a car, ask what has been done to clean the vehicle. Hertz, for example, has introduced Hertz Gold Standard Clean, an enhanced vehicle disinfectant and sanitization process. For extra peace of mind, use disinfecting wipes to wipe down door handles, steering wheels, shifters and control panels.

Air travel tips

Photo by Erik Olin

Compared with other modes of transportation, traveling by air — which involves going to the airport, walking through security and sitting on a plane for hours — allows for greater exposure to COVID-19. As reported by USA Today, after November 30, Southwest, United and American Airlines will be filling planes to full capacity. For the majority of the year, there has been an empty middle seat to allow social distancing; however, this has reportedly caused these companies to lose profit in a time where traveling by air is already at a decline, according to CNBC.

If traveling by air, you should bring:

  • Lots of masks and face shields. It is mandatory to wear a mask while flying, and face shields allow one to eat on long plane rides with little risk.
  • Disinfectant wipes. It’s common knowledge that the folding tray table on planes is one of the dirtiest parts of the plane, so it’s always a great idea to wipe down the seat and tray table.
  • A blanket or pillow. Many long flights offer complimentary pillows and blankets, but bringing your own will help ensure that there’s no cross-contamination.
  • Hand sanitizer to regularly disinfect your hands after touching commonly used objects.

Recently, there have been a few studies suggesting airplanes are not COVID-19 hotspots as reported by CNN. One study from the US Department of Defense supports earlier research showing the ventilation systems on planes filter air efficiently and remove particles that could transmit viruses. However, this study has not been peer-reviewed and did not account for other possible ways of transmission such as other passengers coughing and breathing in close proximity to you, and studies similar to this one have been exposed for being funded by airplane lobbyists as reported by Buzzfeed.

Whether you stay home or travel for this holiday season, it is important to wear a mask and wash your hands frequently in order to protect yourself and your loved ones.