The mask-wearing mandates for adults have been kicked to the curb across the country. The U.S. Transportation Security Administration has also stopped enforcing the mandate and major U.S. airlines made face-covering optional on domestic flights. So, what to do, if you have to travel and are trying to reduce your COVID-19 risk of infection?
Before traveling, your best line of defense to help fight COVID-19 is to get a vaccination and booster shot.
Travel this summer is possible but it just might take some extra planning, precaution and creativity.
Medical experts offer some safety travel tips you should consider before heading out.
Airport risks and plane air circulation
Airports are a high-risk area because you have a lot of people from different areas moving through a central location. So, it makes sense that airports, particularly big city airports, are a hot zone for infectious diseases and novel pathogens. Once you’re seated on the plane, assuming passengers and flight staff are required to wear a mask, surfaces are cleaned regularly and people are spaced greater than 6 feet apart, your risk is probably reduced.
Most viruses do not spread easily on flights because of how air circulates and is filtered on airplanes. But these filters are not functional while the plane is on the tarmac, during boarding, or takeoff. That’s why you may want to take extra precautions until you are up in the air.
—Michael Ben-Aderet, M.D., an infectious disease specialist at Cedars-Sinai
COVID-19 risk and ride-share services
Ride-share services have made it much easier for us to get around whether we’re at home or out of town. Before you hop into a ride-share vehicle, make sure you have hand sanitizer with you to use once you arrive at your destination. Also, don’t accept complimentary drinks, magazines, candy or anything else that is offered to riders.
“When getting in a ride-share vehicle, it’s important that both you and the driver wear masks, especially since you’re in a small space with a stranger for a good amount of time. You can even wear eye protection in this setting to minimize the risk of infection or transmission.
–Joseph Khabbaza, M.D., pulmonary and critical care physician at Cleveland Clinic
Why continue to wear a mask?
Wearing a mask, especially one that fits tightly on your face, can protect you if others are not wearing their mask. For example, health care workers rely on masks when they are taking care of patients. Most of the times, even COVID-19 patients are not wearing masks. Health care workers use N95 masks to protect themselves. So, if you are able to get an N95 or a KN95 masks that fits your face well, that will then be more protective for you. If you can’t get those masks, then studies have shown that putting on a medical or surgical mask, which are more loosely fitting, with a cloth mask on top is almost as good as wearing a tighter fitting mask.
PCR vs rapid testing
If you develop symptoms of COVID-19, you should get a PCR test if you have easy access to one. Antigen tests, more commonly referred to as rapid tests, are also helpful because they’re much more available to the public. But they are not as accurate. One of the ways you could use the antigen test is after your trip if you can’t easily access a PCR test. Test yourself two to four days after your trip, or sooner if you develop symptoms.
If you are taking a taxi or a ride sharing service like Uber, you can politely ask your driver to wear a mask if they are not doing so. And roll down your window for better ventilation. On a bus or subway, where it may be crowded, a well-fitting mask will provide additional protection.
—Bernard Camins, M.D., Medical Director for Infection Prevention at the Mount Sinai Health System
Put travel plans on a backburner
Being vaccinated didn’t change my behavior or my summer travel plans. There are new variants emerging with regularity, and the vaccines will not be equally effective against them all. Because of this, I and all those in my immediate family are taking the same precautions after vaccination as we did before we were vaccinated. That includes avoiding unnecessary travel.
When we do need to go into public places, like to the post office or the grocery store, we wear N95 masks and a face shield, a combination that has proven effective even in indoor healthcare settings of significantly cutting down the risk of infection.
If some members of our extended family are required to travel over the summer, we’ll be asking them not to visit us until at least two weeks post travel — that includes the adults that are vaccinated and the children who are not.
This is not yet the time to let up on the public health measures that can help us control the pandemic.
—William Haseltine, Ph.D., former professor at Harvard Medical School and current president of Access Health International; author of Variants! The Shape-Shifting Challenge of COVID-19
International travel, activities and cancellation
International travel advisories: If you are traveling internationally, keep an eye on the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s travel recommendations for which countries to avoid. Stay up to date on entry and exit requirements to your destination country as well as the U.S. COVID vaccination and testing requirements vary by country, so check before you go.
Activities: Consider choosing outdoor activities with minimal crowds instead of crowded indoor places, particularly if you are traveling with a child too young to be vaccinated or someone who is at higher risk.
Cancellation: Lastly, be prepared to cancel plans if you’re sick or have been exposed. It can be hard to abandon a well-planned, fun trip, but if you’re sick, you need to stay home. If you’ve been exposed to COVID-19, delay until you receive your test results.
–Jerry Zuckerman, M.D., vice president of infection prevention and control at Hackensack Meridian Health