Your travel plans and coronavirus: What should you do?

March 3rd, 2020
Travel plans and coronavirus - What should you do? A woman walks with her suitcase at an aiprort.
Coronavirus and your travel plans. What should you do? Photo: Getty Images.

So, you have a trip planned to Italy, you’ve booked a cruise or you’re hoping to take in some of the events at the summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan.

Now what?

Learn more:

Dr. Michelle Barron, an expert on infectious diseases and medical director for Infection Prevention and Control at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital, says individuals need to think carefully about how coronavirus could impact their travel plans and encourages people to make their own decisions.

For older adults or people who have compromised immune systems, Barron and public health experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are advising them to stay home and avoid cruise ships.

For those wanting to travel now, Barron advises avoiding countries and regions of the U.S. that have had large numbers of COVID-19 cases. Johns Hopkins is updating a real-time tally of COVID-19 cases around the world.

To track cases of the new coronavirus in the U.S., click here for updates from the CDC.

If you decide to travel, think about places without crowds.

“I would avoid the big cities and try to find a small beach town or the like,” Barron said.

And whether you stay home or decide to take a low-risk camping trip for spring break, be sure to minimize your risks by washing your hands religiously and keeping surfaces clean.In the IN add

As you consider your travel plans and coronavirus, Barron said you should think about your personal health. In addition, Barron said it’s important to think about the kind of situations you’d face in the country you are visiting. With increased travel restrictions, it’s also possible that you could face quarantines upon your return home.

For now, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is advising against travel to China, South Korea, Iran and parts of Italy and Japan.

Barron thinks people should make decisions about travel based on issues like population density. If you have plans to go do a big hiking trip in Asia, for instance, and you will be far from crowds, then your risk of COVID-19 might actually be quite low.

On the other hand, traveling to densely populated cities in countries with many cases of COVID-19 right now could be risky.

A photo of Dr. Michelle Barron
Dr. Michelle Barron is an expert in infectious diseases. Photo by UCHealth.

“It’s purely a personal decision, but it’s worth thinking about whether you’ll be in close proximity to someone who is sick. On a crowded subway, for instance, if someone is coughing, your chances of getting sick increase,” Barron said.

To help patients, friends and colleagues, Barron prepared a Q & A with her advice, along with tips from the CDC.

What are the routine precautions I should follow if I do travel?

  • Avoid contact with sick people.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Clean your hands often by washing them with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains 60%–95% alcohol. Soap and water should be used if hands are visibly dirty.
  • It is especially important to clean hands after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose.

Are masks or other protective equipment recommended during travel?

No. The CDC does not recommend travelers wear masks to protect themselves from the new coronavirus, COVID-19. You may choose to wear a mask, but it is more important that you take these steps.

We recommend that everyone follow everyday prevention practices:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household-cleaning product.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
  • If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains 60 to 95% alcohol.

Should I travel to countries with confirmed cases of COVID-19?

Travel notices and are based on assessment of the potential health risks involved with traveling to specific places. Click here to see a list of destinations where travel notices apply. Here’s how the CDC warnings work:

  • Warning Level 3: The CDC recommends travelers avoid all nonessential travel to destinations with level 3 travel notices because of the risk of getting COVID-19.
  • Alert Level 2: Because COVID-19 can be more serious in older adults and those with chronic medical conditions, people in these groups should talk to a health care provider and consider postponing travel to destinations with level 2 travel notices.
  • Watch Level 1: CDC experts do not recommend canceling or postponing travel to destinations with Level 1 travel notices because the risk of COVID-19 is thought to be low.

Are layovers included in CDC’s recommendation to avoid nonessential travel?

Yes, layovers at airports in destinations with level 3 travel notices are included among the CDC’s recommended places to avoid for nonessential travel.

  • If a layover is unavoidable, CDC officials advise travelers not to leave the airport.
  • Travelers with layovers may still be subject to screening and monitoring when entering the United States.

What is the risk of getting COVID-19 on an airplane?

Because of how air circulates and is filtered on airplanes, most viruses and other germs do not spread easily on airplanes. Although the risk of infection on an airplane is low, travelers should try to avoid contact with sick passengers and wash their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer that contain 60-to-95% alcohol. Most airlines are increasing their cleaning protocols and some are providing passengers with sanitizing hand wipes in case they wish to  clean seats, arm rests and try tables so they have added reassurance their seats are clean.

What happens if there is a sick passenger on a flight?

Under current federal regulations, pilots must report to CDC all illnesses and deaths before arriving in the U.S. If a sick traveler is considered to be a public health risk, CDC works with local and state health departments and international public health agencies to contact passengers and crew exposed to that sick traveler—according to CDC disease protocols.

Be sure to give the airline your current contact information when booking your ticket.

Is it safe to go on a cruise?

  • Cruises put large numbers of people, often from countries around the world, in frequent and close contact with each other. This can promote the spread of respiratory viruses, such as the virus that causes COVID-19.
  • You may get sick from close contact with an infected person or by touching contaminated surfaces.
  • You should follow the CDC travel advisories regarding travel and discuss with your clinician if you have underlying medical issues.

What should I do to stay healthy if I go on a cruise?

To reduce spread of respiratory viruses, including COVID-19, CDC recommends that crew members and passengers:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
  • If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains 60%–95% alcohol.

What if I get sick while on the cruise?

  • Stay in your cabin when you are sick.
  • Let the medical center on the cruise know immediately if you develop a fever (100.4°F/38°C or higher), begin to feel feverish, or have other symptoms such as cough, runny nose, shortness of breath, or sore throat.

Should I avoid animals and animal markets while I am travelling?

If you are visiting a live animal market anywhere in the world, it is important to clean your hands thoroughly with soap and water before and after visiting the market. Avoid contact with sick animals or spoiled products, as well as contaminated fluids and waste.

What if I recently traveled to an area affected by COVID-19 and I’m sick?

If you were in a country with a COVID-19 outbreak and feel sick with fever, cough, or difficulty breathing, within 14 days after you left, you should:

  • Seek medical advice. Call ahead before you go to a doctor’s office or an ER. Tell them about your recent travel and your symptoms.
  • Avoid contact with others.
  • If possible, do not travel on public transportation while you are sick because you could expose others.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds to avoid spreading the virus to others.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water immediately after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose.
  • If soap and water are not readily available, you can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains 60 to 95% alcohol. Always wash your hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.

About the author

Katie Kerwin McCrimmon is a proud Colorado native. She attended Colorado College, thanks to a merit scholarship from the Boettcher Foundation, and worked as a park ranger in Rocky Mountain National Park during summer breaks from college. She is also a storyteller. She loves getting to know UCHealth patients and providers and sharing their inspiring stories.

Katie spent years working as a journalist at the Rocky Mountain News and was a finalist with a team of reporters for the Pulitzer Prize for their coverage of a deadly wildfire in Glenwood Springs in 1994. Katie was the first reporter in the U.S. to track down and interview survivors of the tragic blaze, which left 14 firefighters dead.

She covered an array of beats over the years, including the environment, politics, education and criminal justice. She also loved covering stories in Congress and at the U.S. Supreme Court during a stint as the Rocky’s reporter in Washington, D.C.

Katie then worked as a reporter for an online health news site before joining the UCHealth team in 2017.

Katie and her husband Cyrus, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer, have three children. The family loves traveling together anywhere from Glacier National Park to Cuba.