Before traveling to another state for the holidays, here’s what experts say you should consider first.
As the holiday travel season approaches, you might be planning to visit relatives in a different state for that Thanksgiving Day meal or holiday season reunion. What should you do if you’re concerned about COVID-19 exposure in that area?
Experts say you should assess your risks and own sense of safety around protection from the virus before booking a trip.
You’ll want to determine state transmission rates, consider your level of comfort with the type of gatherings you might be attending, and also navigate the tricky waters of visiting relatives who might not share your views about COVID-19 safety.
You have to do your research to determine how safe a given state may feel to you as a holiday season travel destination, said Dr. George Rutherford, professor of epidemiology, preventive medicine, pediatrics and history, as well as the acting executive director of the Institute for Global Health Sciences at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF).
“Are there raging epidemics in that area? What proportion of the population is vaccinated? It totally ends up being about what are you going to do there. If you go to see your 95-year-old parents who are living in a place where there is a ton of transmission, well, that might be one consideration. It might be something to give you some pause,” Rutherford explained.
“If you go to see your kids, and everybody is totally vaccinated, then that creates another dynamic. Of course, small children who can’t be vaccinated adds another dynamic,” he added.
“It’s dependent on who is going, who you are going to see, and where are you going. Those are the three variables I would be most interested in,” he said.
“While masks or social distancing may not be required by law, you may still want to research restaurants or cultural sites in that area that still require them and stick to visiting those establishments,” Butler said.
She pointed to resources provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that detail levels of community transmission by county and state. This way, “you can see at a glance how COVID-19 is spreading in your destination,” Butler explained.
“It’s also good to check the local vaccination rate and the situation in nearby hospitals. If hospitals are already experiencing capacity issues due to COVID-19, that could impact your ability to receive care for any health issue that could arise along the way,” she added.
According to the CDC state tracker, no continental state has a “low level” of community transmission. At the time of publication, no state is even at a “moderate” level.
Level of community transmission is defined as “the number of cases in the last 7 days per 100,000 population and the number of tests in the last 7 days that have a positive result,” according to the CDC website.
Rutherford said transmission rates remain high in many areas of the United States. In states where transmission rates currently may be lower, they may also have lower vaccination rates.
If you are generally concerned about COVID-19, have an underlying condition, aren’t fully vaccinated, or are worried about visiting someone in a high-risk group, weigh travel plans carefully, he said.
When asked what to consider if traveling to a state with high COVID-19 transmission and low vaccination rates, Butler said it’s important to keep in mind that, right now, “all U.S. states are currently experiencing high or substantial levels of community transmission.”
“That means you should be cautious no matter where in the country you’re traveling. If you want to get away this holiday season, get vaccinated — if you aren’t already — and always take the necessary health precautions to protect yourself and others,” she said.
Also, she reiterated that you should be mindful of the local rules and attitudes toward masking and social distancing and follow “whatever precautions you need to feel safe — even if they aren’t required by law.”
If this still doesn’t assuage your fears, Butler said that now might be the time “to plan a holiday where you can be outside and explore the outdoors” if a trip to a state that would involve indoor gatherings with high COVID-19 rates and low vaccination adherence gives you pause.
One delicate matter that might come up this holiday season is traveling to a family reunion where not everyone practices the level of adherence to COVID-19 safety protocols that you do.
If you’re going somewhere that doesn’t feel safe to you, Rutherford was blunt: “Don’t go.”
Suppose you’re thinking of attending a large family gathering with unvaccinated relatives, and you have an underlying condition that puts you at risk of either more rapid progression to illness or of not being protected by the vaccine. In that case, you may want to reconsider, Rutherford added.
“You will need to be careful. It remains to be seen whether we have another winter surge or not, but these are all things to keep in mind,” Rutherford said.
Essentially, it comes down to individual choice and a sense of safety.
Butler and Rutherford stressed that you have to research what states might be safer to travel to at this time, where transmission rates may be lower than other places, where vaccine adherence is up, and pinpoint your safety threshold.
You can enjoy traveling to other states this holiday season, but you’ll have to do your homework to determine what trip might be the best to take at this time.
We understand that you’re worried about your health and safety away from home, and the safety of the communities that you’re visiting around the world. As regulations and requirements for travel shift, we’re here to help you navigate this complex and often confusing landscape. Whether you’re driving to a natural wonder in your state or flying around the globe, we can help you protect yourself and others.
Check back often to learn how to protect yourself and your loved ones on your next journey.