On the Road Again!
It’s clear some people are hitting the road—and driving straight to our little beach town. Though COVID-19 has made for somewhat subdued vacationing, it’s good to feel even a little of the vibrancy that visitors bring to our shore.
We may also be feeling a little wanderlust. After all, if folks can travel to visit us, how about some get-aways of our own? We might be able to do that—if we’re deliberate about the details.
Destination: International travel is basically a non-starter just now—at least for US travelers. We need to be mindful about choosing even a domestic destination: COVID-19 hot spots keep popping up; avoiding them needs to be a priority. Some places would require we self-quarantine for a couple weeks upon arrival. Know this before crossing that state line.
Mode of Travel: Distance and/or the time available may require flying. Many destinations, though, require a decision: is it safer to board a flight, or drive for a few days?
Leaving on a jet plane.... Check to see what various airlines are doing to keep passengers (and staff) safe. Are they filling middle seats? Many airlines began to do so in recent weeks; Delta, for one, has committed to blocking middle seats and restricting the number of passengers on flights through September 30.
When flying: wear a mask. Bring disinfectant wipes and clean the seatbelt buckle, tray table, and anything else we’ll touch. Pack a small container of hand sanitizer and use it liberally. Keep hands away from faces. Avoid the bathroom if possible; if not, wash hands really well and apply more hand sanitizer once back at our seat.
What about breathing recirculating air? So long as the plane’s ventilation system is running, air is refreshed (outside air is pulled in, replacing inside air) often and efficiently. If the system isn’t running—e.g., when sitting on the tarmac for an extended period—it isn’t refreshed at all. Keep the little air vent above the seat open at all times.
Getting our kicks on route 66.... When driving, there are lots of things to consider. We should occupy a car only alone or with members of our household: a car is a “small, contained space,” so is potentially high-risk. If our travel involves multiple households, it’s safest if each household occupies its own vehicle.
If people from more than one household do share a vehicle, find ways to refresh the air. Drive with the windows open or use the car’s ventilation system to draw in outdoor air. Everyone in the car needs to wear a mask. If possible, keep the number of occupants small enough (and the vehicle large enough) that the driver and passenger(s) can physically distance.
Nature’s call will require a visit to a rest stop or other public facility. Find one that’s not crowded. Other people are the source of most infections; we don’t want to be packed into a tight indoor space with lots of them. Wear a mask, make the visit as short as possible, wash hands, and use a hand sanitizer immediately after leaving the facility.
How about refueling—both gas tanks and ourselves? The gas tank is the easier of the two: wear gloves at the pump, pay at the pump, and sanitize hands afterward.
And ourselves? To date, there’s no evidence anyone has contracted coronavirus from food. The risks derive from other diners, not food. Packing our own food is good; so too is take-out. Shopping at the grocery for a meal works—many are large enough to avoid extended, close contact with other shoppers. Wherever we’ve foraged for food, eating outdoors is best. Picnic, anyone?
Yearning for a dine-in restaurant meal? Choose one where masks are required, and try to sit outdoors. If outdoors isn’t an option, sit as far away from other people as possible. Avoid lingering over the meal: it’s all about limiting time spent in enclosed spaces with other people.
Accommodations: What about overnight stays? Try an RV. It’s a large vehicle—we can spread ourselves out. It offers a kitchenette for meal prep. We can sleep in it, avoiding hotel rooms. It has a self-contained bathroom.
If an RV is out, camp in a tent or cabin, keeping ourselves largely outdoors. Just be mindful of those public restrooms and shower houses, observing usual precautions.
Staying with friends or family? Special considerations may apply. Is anyone in either household high-risk? If so, we may want to consider staying elsewhere. If opting for a hotel, call before reserving a room to see what safe practices it’s implemented and plan to supplement those with our own safe practices. Avoid tight common spaces—e.g., elevators or crowded lobbies.
Eager to answer the call of the open road (or friendly skies)? It can be done—admittedly, at heightened risk. But with planning, preparation, and mindful practices we can mitigate the risks. Happy trails! ▼
Marj Shannon is an epidemiologist and wordsmith who has devoted her life to minutiae. She reports that yes, the devils are in the details.