Travel is picking up this summer, but COVID is still circulating. Experts shared the factors you should consider for a safer trip. Key TakeawaysTo minimize risk, immunocompromised individuals and anyone who is traveling with them should be fully vaccinated before going on a trip.The destination, mode of transportation, and activities should all be considered beforehand.Plan
With summer quickly approaching, many Americans are already making plans for upcoming travels. Planning a trip can be arduous, but it’s even more taxing during a pandemic when you have to take more factors into consideration.
Instead of opting for the most convenient options, the focus needs to ultimately be on safety. This is even more crucial for immunocompromised and high-risk individuals who want to travel.
If you're immunocompromised, it doesn't mean you shouldn't travel, but there are extra precautions you can take to have fun and be safe. Here’s what you should factor into your plans this summer.
There are plenty of ways to minimize your risk of COVID-19 exposure and infection as much as possible. However, keep in mind that your risk is likely never zero.
Everyone is recommended to be up-to-date with their COVID-19 vaccinations, especially those who intend to travel.
“Immunocompromised folks can reduce the likelihood of severe illness with vaccination and boosters,” Keri Althoff, PhD, MPH, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told Verywell. “These essential tools to staying healthy may not result in the same immune response as someone without immunosuppression, but immune responses are a dial, not a switch. Even a little response may help to confer protection against more severe illness.”
Experts advise immunocompromised people to talk to their healthcare providers before traveling and continue taking all precautions even after being fully vaccinated.
The timing of booster shots should also be considered, both for the people in the travel party and that of anyone you might visit, Stanley H. Weiss, MD, professor of medicine at the Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, told Verywell. Also, assess what the exposure levels will be for children if they are younger than 5 years old and have not been vaccinated, he added.
The community incidence rate of COVID-19 and other infections like influenza must be taken into account when choosing a destination, Weiss said. The prevention strategies in place at the destination and various points en route, such as masking and/or vaccination requirements, should also be considered, he added.
“Due to the various modalities of testing—including at-home tests that typically are not reflected in local and state COVID-19 data—it is important to look at how COVID-19 transmission rates are trending, not just the absolute COVID-19 transmission rate,” Althoff said. “If the rate is increasing, you may want to re-think your mitigation layers to increase your protection.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), restrictions and policies may change during the trip itself, so being flexible is necessary. Prevention strategies and COVID-19 response also vary across the country, so read up on those beforehand.
“Make sure you are aware of the local mitigation strategies and the metrics by which the local area may scale up or down mitigation strategies,” Althoff said. “This information should be available on a public health department website, but if you can’t find it, find the telephone number for the local health department at your destination and inquire.”
It may be best to choose an accommodation that will allow for a bit of seclusion from others, like a rental cabin or home instead of a hotel room, Althoff said.
Doing so would help minimize contact with other people who are not traveling with you.
Going on a road trip is probably safer than taking a long-distance train or bus trip.
“A personal vehicle and traveling with people who you know are vaccinated, boosted and negative on a rapid test just before you leave will confer the lowest risk of exposure,” Althoff said.
For those going on a long drive, minimize stops along the way with a potential for exposure, Weiss said. In case you need to stay overnight anywhere before reaching the destination, evaluate how safe that facility might be, he added.
If traveling with a personal vehicle is not possible, make sure to wear well-fitting, high-quality masks to minimize transmission.
“Make sure you pack masks that fit well and have filtration that increases your protection, recognizing that in many places, including airplanes and public transportation, are no longer requiring masks,” Althoff said. “Your fellow passengers are likely to be unmasked.”
The day of the week and time of the day also matter since airports tend to be busier on weekends and public transport is more crowded during rush hour, she added.
It’s best to choose outdoor activities with adequate spacing, and make sure to avoid crowded areas, Weiss said. The risk of exposure to COVID-19 is lower when doing outdoor activities, even without wearing masks.
Outdoor recreation like cycling, kayaking, and camping is likely to be safe. Going on an outdoor walking tour or playing sports with the people from the same travel party are possible options as well.
“Go for a hike, enjoy a view from a mountain with a picnic, [or] sit by the water,” Althoff said. “Make sure you have backup options for uncooperative weather.”
If you’re immunocompromised and you intend to go on a trip soon, make sure your travel companions are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. To minimize the infection risk as much as possible, check the virus transmission rates beforehand, choose a safer mode of transportation, and engage in outdoor activities.
It’s important for anyone—especially immunocompromised individuals—to have a plan for where and how they would seek care at the intended destination in case they get infected.
“Identify pharmacies that are stocked with COVID-19 antivirals and/or hospitals or clinics that have monoclonal antibodies,” Althoff said. “Seek out the local health department’s information on how to access these should you need them.”
Although there’s no strict number of people in a travel group that’s considered “safe,” it helps if the people you’re traveling with are on the same page with you when it comes to COVID-19 precautions and agrees on the activities that you will and will not do.
“Even if others are not wearing masks, putting peer pressure upon [you] not to: decide in advance that you will not succumb, that you know you will nevertheless stay firm,” Weiss said. “Avoid situations where you might feel compelled not to take adequate precautions. Recognize that a person can be asymptomatic or rapid-antigen-test-negative yet still be infectious.”
The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.