Travel precautions for COVID-19 during the holidays

Masks required for flight travel. Photo taken at Kansas City International Airport.

The holiday season is approaching, marking a busy time for travel and visiting family. But like many things this year, travel needs to look different in order to stay safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has urged people not to travel this holiday season, the reality is some will anyway. That’s why it’s important to observe recommended precautions.

Dr. Randall Williams, director of Missouri’s Department of Health and Senior Services, is echoing that message. He said people should take steps to incorporate COVID-19 safety guidelines into homes and travel if they are gathering for the holidays.

“We’re seeing so much of the community transmission now around people not social distancing. They’re gathering together,” he said. “They may feel safe going to Walmart wearing a mask, but then they go back to their house and have 20 people over and they don’t social distance and they don’t wear a mask.”

He said this gives a false sense that the people close to you aren’t carrying the virus.

“There’s children coming home from college, there’s children coming from other cities, your cousins and uncles and aunts. All of them can carry COVID-19 and be asymptotic,” he said.

If you’re leaving town for a holiday visit, first check what case rates look like where you are going.

Nancy King, St. Joseph Health Department educator, said due to a continued increase in cases and a new increase in deaths per day, St. Joseph can be considered a hot spot for the virus.

“I think that we are considered a hot one based on those criteria, so it would be more looking at if we are going into an area to visit that has a lower transition rate, just be cognizant of the fact that you could be contagious but not yet showing symptoms,” King said.

She said people in the community should keep gatherings small to help combat local increases in cases.

“The safest way would be to have a small Thanksgiving dinner with just members that live with you in your household,” she said. “We know cases are rising in our community pretty rapidly,” she said. “We have a lot of people in the hospital, a lot of new cases daily and we’re starting to get a new increase in deaths per day, so whatever we can do to help reduce the potential exposure to other people with COVID is the safest thing to do.”

If you’re driving for the holidays, limiting stops and making sure you’re wearing a mask and keeping your hands clean whenever you are out of the car is important.

Williams said travelers should avoid sitting inside when making a stop on a trip.

“You might want to consider eating in the car opposed to eating in a restaurant,” Williams said.

Martin Liles, assistant district engineer for the Missouri Department of Transportation’s Northwest office, said road crews are working hard to help drivers have a smooth and healthy trip.

“In case there is that additional traffic like normal or if there’s not, our facilities are open,” he said. “Our rest areas and welcome centers are open and ready for the general public. The cleaning of those have been really focused a lot harder on.”

In case there are issues while traveling, Lilies said it’s important to have PPE and sanitizer.

“Make sure that they’re well prepared with those types of personal protective equipment,” Liles said.

For those flying, masks will be especially important. Williams said he knows of only about 100 cases of COVID-19 that have been connected to flights when a mask is used properly.

“That’s if you’re wearing a mask. So obviously people are close together, you need to wear a mask the whole trip, not just on the plane but in the airport,” Williams said.

These tips are key if travel is necessary this holiday season. Williams said anyone, especially those at high risk, should consider holding family gatherings virtually this year.

“This would be the year that I would have the holidays by Zoom because if you think about it, the last thing that anybody wants is the memory of this holiday to be a loved one who became ill,” he said. “You don’t want to look back to the Thanksgiving of 2020 and realize, well that’s when so and so got ill,” he said.

Morgan Riddell can be reached at morgan.riddell@newspressnow.com