What’s the safest way to travel during the new coronavirus pandemic—if any? As of this writing, COVID-19 has killed more than 130,000 people in this country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). New hotspots continue to pop up, like those in Arizona, California, Texas, Florida, and Louisiana, among other states. And it’s becoming clearer that some people who contract but don’t die of the virus may face ongoing medical issues like intense fatigue, brain fog, and trouble breathing, according to reporting by The Atlantic.
So, to some extent, it feels wrong to be writing about traveling for the rest of us. This virus is real, and it’s doing real—and in many cases deadly or lasting—damage. To be extremely clear, staying home is still the safest option when it comes to your health along with that of everyone you would come into contact with during and after travel. Various states reopening to differing degrees doesn’t automatically make it completely safe to resume regular life, including traveling.
With that said, many people are already traveling or are planning to, whether for essential or non-essential reasons. My social media feeds are full of folks on road trips. I know of a few friends’ plans to get on a plane. I myself have been camping and biking dozens of miles, willing the fresh air to keep me both safe and sane. The question is, how risky is it to travel during the new coronavirus pandemic? And what can we do to mitigate that risk? Traveling—or partaking in any other potentially unsafe activity—doesn’t have to be all or nothing. If you’re doing anything that raises your risk of getting or transmitting COVID-19, you should use as many safety techniques you can to bring that risk down to its lowest.
Here, SELF spoke with three experts in epidemiology and infectious disease to find the safest way to travel this summer: Celine Gounder, M.D., former NYC assistant commissioner of health and host of the Epidemic podcast, Sara Hurtado Bares, M.D., associate professor in the division of infectious diseases at University of Nebraska Medical Center, and Maria Sundaram, MSPH, Ph.D., an infectious disease epidemiologist and postdoctoral fellow at ICES Ontario.
We asked for the nitty-gritty details that can help you stay as safe as possible while traveling, ranging from discussions of the mode of transportation itself to bathroom breaks, shopping, and eating. Here’s what you need to know about the safety of road trips, train trips (much of the advice here works for busses, too), and flights as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on in the United States.
Road trips are the safest travel option if you do them right.
SELF: People seem to think that road trips are the safest travel option during the COVID-19 pandemic. Is that true? If you were to design the safest possible road trip, what would it involve?
C.G.: The safest travel option is not to travel. If you do travel, a road trip is the safest because you’re not sharing space with someone the way you do on a bus, in a train, in an airport, or on a plane. One option is to rent an RV or go camping. The general guidance is to stay six-plus feet away from anyone not in your household bubble, wear a mask when outside your vehicle, use lots of hand sanitizer, don’t dine indoors, and avoid crowds.
S.B.: It’s a safer option than flying and trains because you can choose who you’re in the car with. Your most immediate risk during travel is the people within six feet of you. We’re actually planning a road trip for Labor Day weekend. We chose a place that is a short distance. We got an Airbnb cabin that’s more isolated. We have little kids, so we’re going to have to stop at a rest area, but we’ll try to plan a route that is in a low coronavirus-prevalence area. You want to have as few stops as possible, theoretically, because any stop you make, you’re going to be potentially exposed to other people.