COVID-19 continues to upend many plans and activities, but the holiday season is still a popular time for travel in the U.S. A recent survey demonstrates that most respondents plan to travel during the pandemic, potentially spreading the virus along the way. Jill Foster, MD, M Physicians pediatric infectious disease physician, discusses current travel recommendations during the holidays.

"A month ago, I might have said you could get away with it if you're really careful, but everything with COVID changes. Now I just don't advise it," Dr. Foster said.

The safest way to celebrate winter holidays is to celebrate at home with the people who live with you. Staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others. Travel and gatherings with family and friends who do not live with you can increase your chances of getting or spreading COVID-19.

"If someone is asymptomatic and has the virus, the longer the others are exposed to them, the more likely it is that they will get sick," Dr. Foster said. 

If you still decide to travel, precautions must be taken. First, you need to assess your unique situation and the risk associated with it. Consider three critical aspects:

  1. Vulnerability of the people involved. Are they older? Do they have pre-existing conditions? 
  2. The baseline COVID-19 levels in the communities that you’re visiting as well as the surrounding geographical areas.  Over the past few months, rates of COVID-19 have risen in most locations.
  3. Your tolerance of risk and your ability to creatively problem-solve around that risk.

People need to really think through whether or not putting vulnerable people at risk – older relatives, someone with diabetes, someone getting chemotherapy – is worth the negative implications. Needing family time around the holidays is natural. After how difficult 2020 has been, people are really feeling a need to be with family even more. I encourage people, though, to think ahead to 2021.

Dr. Jill Foster

Even if you are taking precautions, don’t let this lull you into a false sense of security. If preventative measures fail, you want to be in a location where specialized health care for COVID-19 is available. It’s best to avoid locations with healthcare systems that are already overwhelmed or stretched thin.

“With cases rising all across the U.S. and some parts of the world, this might not be the year to travel. If you must travel, prepare your “armor” for the transit (facial coverings and hand sanitizer) and minimize your exposures where you can. Most importantly, think about conditions on the ground,” Dr. Foster said