How to Stay Safe when Traveling During an Outbreak

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For many people, Covid has become a mere annoyance and just another part of their daily lives. But for anyone who is high-risk, it is still a life-threatening disease that requires constant vigilance to avoid. In addition to that, we are experiencing higher-than-normal rates of influenza and RSV, making this an especially dangerous time. With Christmas right around the corner, you may very well be visiting an at-risk loved one yourself. To ensure that you do everything in your power to keep them safe, there are a few things you can do to make sure that you are disease-free this holiday season.

Stay Masked in Public Places

N95 Mask

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Whether or not masks are required in your grocery stores, fitness centers, work places, or public transportation, it is still always a good idea to mask up when in these spaces. But not all masks are created equal, and the reusable cloth masks that have become the standard in many places are not the most effective at preventing transmission. The CDC recommends a well-fitting disposable surgical mask for the best protection. While it may not be practical to use these kinds of masks year-round, doing so for a couple of weeks before your trip is an easy way to get some extra protection.

The absolute best of the best is NIOSH-approved respirators, including the popular N95 masks. Respirators have much better filtration than cloth masks and standard surgical masks, but must be worn tightly around the face with no gaps around your nose, mouth, and chin. If you are going to wear a cloth mask, make sure it is made of multiple layers of tightly woven fabric and that it has a nose wire that will fold tightly onto your face to prevent gaps.

Get the Bivalent Booster

Booster shot being administered

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For anyone willing to get vaccinated, staying up-to-date on your booster shots is crucial to keeping you and your loved ones safe. According to the CDC, while 68% of the US population has been fully vaccinated, only 13.5% has received the most up-to-date booster. Many people either do not know that they are eligible for the booster, or don’t see the point in getting boosted when they are not considered at-risk. You can still get sick and transmit the disease after getting boosted, so what is the point?

First of all, the bivalent booster is available for anyone over 5 years of age, even without conditions that put them at risk. Furthermore, protection from the vaccine wanes over time, so if you were vaccinated a year or more ago, you will have much less protection from the newer variants if you don’t get boosted. Fortunately, the bivalent booster is designed specifically for the highly contagious Omicron variant, greatly reducing both the chance of transmission, as well as reducing the likelihood of severe illness and hospitalization. It is not foolproof, so you will still want to take other precautions, but it is the easiest way to reduce the chance that you will be sick when you show up to Christmas dinner. 

Get Tested Before Your Visit

COVID Testing

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One of the scariest things for people who are at risk for serious illness from Covid is that many people carry and spread it without having any symptoms. Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco have found a set of genes that they believe explains why some people do not experience symptoms from a Covid infection. This particular mutation can be found in about 1 in 10 people, and while it is good news for those who have it, they can inadvertently act as a trojan horse and unknowingly transmit the disease to their loved ones.

To combat this, it is important to test yourself before seeing any of your relatives who are at risk. The rapid tests that are available over the counter are the most efficient way to test, but can produce false negatives in asymptomatic subjects or people who are early in their infection. The PCR tests that are done in a lab are much more effective at catching the virus, and can be performed at any health clinic. At the very least, it is a good idea to have a few rapid tests with you while you travel, but nothing beats a PCR test done in a lab before you leave.

Drive Instead of Flying

A couple enjoying a road trip

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No matter how many precautions you take, cramming into the confined space of an airplane, train car, or Greyhound bus is always going to carry some risk. These spaces are not just hotbeds for Covid, but are also prime real estate for other potentially lethal diseases like the flu. The long, packed lines of the airport, the waiting area at a train station, and the heavily frequented bathrooms are all unavoidable risks when traveling with the masses.

While it is not an option for everyone, driving yourself to your Christmas vacation eliminates a lot of the risk associated with traveling. If you don’t have a vehicle that is suited for your trip, you may find that renting a car and splitting the cost between all in your group is actually cheaper than it would cost to fly anyway. If you avoid crowded areas like grocery stores and public transportation for a week before your trip and then drive yourself to your destination, you eliminate almost all of the risk of infection associated with traveling!

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