The holidays are upon us, and that often means traveling to be with loved ones or taking a special trip.
With a growing number of people vaccinated against COVID-19—and the potential for even more now that kids ages 5 and up are eligible for a vaccine—travel can be safer than it was at this time last year, when vaccines were not yet widely available.
We talked to Emily Sickbert-Bennett, PhD, director of UNC Medical Center Infection Prevention, about how to avoid getting COVID-19 while traveling this holiday season. Here are four ways to stay safe and reduce your risk of catching more than just your flight.
1. Stay close to home if you’re not vaccinated.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises against travel unless you are fully vaccinated. If you are unvaccinated and still plan to travel within the United States, you should get tested for COVID-19 one to three days before your departure and again three to five days after returning. Unvaccinated people are much more likely to contract COVID-19 and spread it to others, including people at high risk for complications.
If you’re unvaccinated and testing is not an option, stay home and self-quarantine for 10 days before and after travel. You can reduce your risk and the need to quarantine by getting vaccinated as soon as possible.
2. Wear a mask while traveling.
The CDC requires passengers and crew to wear masks while on public transportation, including airplanes.
“We know masking works, and it not only protects you from catching COVID-19, it prevents you from spreading the virus to other people if you’re ill and don’t know it,” Dr. Sickbert-Bennett says. “Masking is especially important if you’re not yet vaccinated.”
Make sure that you have a well-fitted mask that is comfortable to wear for the length of your travel.
3. Keep your distance from other travelers.
Although you cannot physically distance from others once on a plane, train or bus, spread out while you’re waiting to board. Keep at least 6 feet between yourself and others as often as possible.
Use hand sanitizer and carry disinfectant wipes to use on your armrests and tray table; while COVID-19 is a mostly airborne disease, many other viruses and bacteria can live on surfaces.
4. Cancel your plans if you feel sick.
If you think you may have COVID-19 or you may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, do not participate in any in-person events.
“Be very cognizant of your own health and how you’re feeling, and be willing to be flexible,” Dr. Sickbert-Bennett says. “If you aren’t feeling well, you need to isolate. If you’ve been notified that you have an unprotected exposure, you need to quarantine.”
Be flexible with your plans in case you have to change them if you or someone in your household is feeling ill.
Finally, remember that while this holiday season will be different from last year, the pandemic is not over. Taking simple precautions can help you and your loved ones enjoy the holidays with a reduced risk of infection and illness.
Visit unchealthcare.org/vaccine for the latest information on the COVID-19 vaccines.