When Georgia allowed businesses to reopen at the end of April, many visitors from elsewhere flocked to the Peach State to take advantage of the restaurants, salons, bowling alleys and more. As other states followed with staged reopenings, the trend continued.
These trips are risky amid the COVID-19 pandemic. After all, the threat of coronavirus has hardly disappeared. But the urge is certainly understandable.
“People have quarantine fatigue,” said Jagdish Khubchandani, a professor of health science at Ball State University in Indiana. “There’s a feeling of inequality ― why do my friends and family or people in other states have the freedom that I don’t? Plus, summertime is vacation time, and people want to go out.”
Still, are such trips advisable? HuffPost spoke to experts about the safety of traveling to a state with more reopened businesses than your home state and what prospective travelers should consider in order to protect their health and that of their loved ones.
Listen To The Experts
“In general, the best way to avoid getting sick is to stay home and to travel only within your community for essential tasks related to work and household needs. Any travel will increase your risk of becoming infected with COVID-19 and potentially spreading it to others,” said Stephanie Kreml, physician and advisor to the telemedicine platform Medici. “While many of us are stir crazy and would like to travel during the summer months, the safest thing to do at this time is to stay home.”
The fact that certain states have almost fully reopened does not mean there’s no risk of exposure to the coronavirus there. Some have reported increases in the number of daily reported COVID-19 cases.
“For a reopened state, you are not the only one flocking to it. There are many others,” said Khubchandani. “How will you ensure you are safe? Socially distanced from people? You can control your behaviors, but how about others? You are risking infection by going to cluttered places. I would say, stay where you are as much as you can.”
Your travel experience will likely feel different anyway.
“Just because your favorite vacation destination has opened does not mean that you have to go visit right now,” said Brian Labus, a professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas’ School of Public Health. “You need to make informed decisions about what is best for you and your health, and your favorite vacation spot will probably look and feel quite a bit different than usual because of the steps they are taking to protect you.”
Research Your Destination
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has information on traveling outside your community during the pandemic, including things to consider when making this decision. One major consideration is the health conditions at your destination.
“Before deciding to travel to a reopened state, consider whether or not COVID-19 is still spreading in the city where you are going,” advised Tony Yuan, a physician and medical director at Doctor On Demand.
“Just because your favorite vacation destination has opened does not mean that you have to go visit right now.”
– Brian Labus, a professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas’ School of Public Health.
Destinations with a continuous decline in cases are safer than those that have had recent spikes, so do your research. Consider what the COVID-19 burden has been on the health care systems in your destination and whether you would be able to access good care in the event of a medical incident.
“We know many states are reopening prematurely, so I would encourage potential travelers to check out the local health department websites,” said Saskia Popescu, an infection prevention epidemiologist. “If there’s not been a consistent decrease in cases and hospitalization for several weeks, I would say to postpone the trip.”
Some states and municipalities also require travelers to quarantine upon arrival, typically for 14 days. It’s important to pay attention to the restrictions for travelers, as well as locals, and whether people are abiding by them.
Ainel Sewell, a radiologist and member of Physicians for Patient Protection, noted that visitors are unlikely to help the situation if cases are still up, particularly in places where people are not following public health guidance.
“Some states are instituting measures to keep everyone safe like wearing masks and maintaining social distance,” she said. “However, it is unclear as to whether these measures are actually being enforced.”
Consider Your Health Status
“Other important considerations include your health status and the health status of your family members who are staying at home, because older adults and people who have a serious underlying medical condition are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19,” Yuan said.
If you take a trip and contract COVID-19, you may expose vulnerable members of your household to the virus when you return. Consider their risk of developing complications and requiring hospitalization, as well as your own.
Also, consider risks for the people at the destination you want to visit. If you live in an area where a lot of community transmission is still occurring, it may be irresponsible to visit a place with far fewer cases.
“Do not travel if you are sick and do not travel with someone who is sick,” Yuan said. It also may be a good idea to take a COVID-19 test before your departure, especially if they’re easily accessible in your community.
Determine What You’ll Be Doing
Individuals should also make a risk-reward analysis based on their reason for traveling, what they’ll be doing at their destination and how many people they’ll have to encounter. A trip to a beach house with one’s housemates is probably safer than a large family reunion bringing together relatives from across the country who will want to greet each other with hugs and kisses.
“You need to balance the risk of travel against the benefit of doing so,” Labus said. “You might be willing to accept a greater risk to visit an elderly relative in the hospital across the country than you would to visit a theme park.”
This analysis can help you decide what precautions to take before and after your trip.
“It’s important to consider where you’re coming from, where you’re going, and what you’ll be doing,” Popescu said. “If those activities are high-risk and can’t be avoided, consider a 14-day quarantine when you return home. If you find that you were exposed, consider doing a 14-day quarantine before leaving, too.”
Examine Your Method Of Travel
Another factor to consider when deciding whether to travel to a reopened state is your method of transportation.
“Busier modes like air travel and even taking the train puts you at greater risk than traveling in a more solitary fashion. When you travel by car, you are exposed to far fewer people, and you have control over your environment. You can clean it yourself.” said Iahn Gonsenhauser, a physician at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center.
Yuan noted that air travel requires spending time in busy terminals and lines, which increases contact with other people and high-touch surfaces. It also often means sitting very close to other people for hours on board.
Still, he added, car travel comes with risks as well.
“It’s important to consider where you’re coming from, where you’re going, and what you’ll be doing.”
– Saskia Popescu, an infection prevention epidemiologist.
“Traveling long distances by car requires making stops along the way for gas, food or bathroom breaks that can put you in close contact with other people and surfaces,” he said.
Practice Good Hygiene And Social Distancing
If you do choose to make a trip to another state, you should do all you can to minimize risk during your travels.
“Even though we could all use a vacation at this point, going on one does not mean that you can escape the risk of infection,” Labus emphasized. “The reality is that there is still a pandemic occurring, and you need to take steps to stay safe.”
To be safe and responsible, travelers should continue doing the things they do to protect themselves at home.
“Continue to practice good hygiene by washing your hands regularly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or using hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol. This is particularly important while traveling as it will be hard to avoid touching surfaces frequently touched by others,” Kreml noted.
“Avoid touching your face, and cover your coughs and sneezes to prevent spreading illness,” she added. “Wear a cloth face mask whenever you are in public. Also, maintain a distance of at least six feet from others outside your household.”
You need to pack the supplies necessary to practice good hygiene. That includes disinfecting products like hand sanitizer and wipes, as well as personal supplies to cut down on the number of times you’ll have to go into stores.
“Depending on the length of your travel, bring several cloth masks with you if they become dirty,” Kremel advised. “You may want to bring disposable gloves and disinfecting wipes to clean your travel lodgings. Gloves should only be used once and discarded after each use. However, wearing gloves in public spaces is not as effective in limiting the spread of germs unless you plan on changing your gloves after each item you touch. Therefore, it’s often better to wash your hands or use hand sanitizer frequently.”
Pack water and non-perishable food and snacks for the journey. Plan for unsafe situations.
“Be prepared to see people without masks or those who don’t practice social distancing,” Khubchandani said. “Take all emergency contacts, insurance cards, and be prepared to return anytime.”
Experts are still learning about the novel coronavirus. The information in this story is what was known or available as of press time, but guidance concerning COVID-19 could change as scientists discover more about the virus. Please check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the most updated recommendations.