This article was last updated on March 17, and is no longer being updated. This is a fast-moving situation, so some information may be outdated. For the latest updates, read The New York Times’s live coronavirus coverage here.
With summer fast approaching, many families are wondering just how long coronavirus will remain at the center of our lives. The outbreak has sickened people worldwide and killed thousands, adding a new layer of anxiety when thinking about potential travel plans.
The disease, which was first identified in China, is now spreading widely in other areas of the world, and scores of people have become infected in the United States. In March, officials at the World Health Organization said the spread of coronavirus is now a pandemic.
[Track the spread of the disease.]
Here’s the bottom line: Right now, traveling presents a risk, even in the United States. We know that some U.S. communities are spreading the disease rapidly, but the full extent of its prevalence here is unknown because testing has been limited.
One of the most important things to think about is the well-being of your fellow passengers and family members. Even if you don’t fit the profile of someone who is at risk of developing severe symptoms, you might infect someone who is. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have posted several factors to take into consideration if you are still considering travel.
Is it safe to travel to tourist spots in the United States?
As we see transmission in communities within the United States, “any dense area of people will increase risk of exposure,” said Dr. Aaron M. Milstone, M.D., a professor of pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “What we’re really trying to do right now is to slow the spread of the virus to give people time to prepare. One of the key ways to achieve that is social distancing.”
In March, the Walt Disney Company announced that it would close every Disney theme park worldwide, including Disney World in Florida and the Disneyland Resort in California, because of the coronavirus pandemic. Disney Cruise Line will also close. Other theme park operators, like Six Flags and Universal Parks and Resorts have also announced closures.
Some states and counties have already banned large gatherings, temporarily shuttering Broadway shows, museums and other tourist attractions because of the coronavirus. Nearly every major sporting event in the United States has been suspended or canceled. And the National Park Service recently announced that it will allow park superintendents to close park facilities and programs as they see fit.
The new coronavirus, which causes a respiratory illness known as Covid-19, appears to be more severe among older adults and those with underlying health conditions like heart disease, diabetes and lung disease. Cases in children have so far been rare, and children with Covid-19 have generally exhibited mild symptoms.
Experts advised that everyone should be cautious about nonessential travel right now, and that’s especially the case for those who may be at higher risk of serious complications related to Covid-19.
“Now is the time where we actually do want to start thinking, ‘Well, do I really need to take that trip to go on vacation?’” said Dr. Michael Mina, M.D., Ph.D., an assistant professor of epidemiology and immunology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “If it were me, I think I would probably try to decrease my risk as much as possible, and one way to do that is reducing travel.”
Should I worry about air travel?
Unlike chickenpox or measles, the virus doesn’t appear to be airborne, meaning it most likely does not linger suspended in the air, said Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, M.D., an infectious diseases specialist and professor of pediatrics and epidemiology at Stanford Medicine.
“I don’t know exactly what the mechanism is, but this is really acting like a large droplet transmission,” she said, which means you’re more likely to get it from contaminated surfaces or people near you. “As you sneeze or cough, these are larger droplets that spew out and they tend not to travel more than three feet or so.”
So if someone on a plane did have coronavirus, she said, you would need to touch the same surface they touched or sit near them in order to potentially be infected.
The virus is spreading easily within communities in the United States, and the chance of sitting near someone on a plane who might have Covid-19 will increase as the virus becomes more widespread, Dr. Milstone said.
If you do need to travel by plane, it’s a good idea to use alcohol wipes to clean tray tables, bathroom handles and other parts of the plane that you might touch that are not regularly sanitized by the flight crew.
If you are an older adult or if you have underlying health problems, the C.D.C. recommends avoiding crowded places and nonessential travel, including long plane trips.
In addition to checking government advisories, be sure to ask your employer about any travel restrictions. Some institutions are asking employees to avoid coming into the office for 14 days if they travel to states with known outbreaks or if they come in contact with people who have coronavirus.
What about cruises?
There has been concern that cruise ships might aid transmission of viruses, since passengers are isolated together in an enclosed environment.
In March, the State Department advised Americans against traveling on cruise ships.
“U.S. citizens, particularly travelers with underlying health conditions, should not travel by cruise ship,” the State Department wrote in an alert posted to its website. “While the U.S. government has evacuated some cruise ship passengers in recent weeks, repatriation flights should not be relied upon as an option for U.S. citizens under the potential risk of quarantine by local authorities.”
The C.D.C. has also advised that travelers avoid cruise travel worldwide.
Is international travel OK?
Probably not. The European Union has announced a ban on nearly all travelers from the rest of the world. Argentina and Saudi Arabia have similar bans and many other countries are limiting who may enter.
The State Department has advised U.S. citizens to reconsider travel abroad because of the global impact of Covid-19. And President Trump announced that foreign nationals who had been in certain European countries for the last two weeks would not be allowed to fly to the United States.
The ban does not apply to United States citizens, green card holders or their immediate family members. But all travelers could encounter increased security screenings or airline service reductions.
Right now, the C.D.C. is recommending that all travelers avoid nonessential travel to China, Iran and most of Europe, the United Kingdom and Ireland. Entry of foreign nationals from these destinations has been suspended. The C.D.C. also recommends avoiding nonessential travel to South Korea.
Older adults and people of any age with serious chronic medical conditions are at increased risk for severe disease and should consider postponing nonessential travel, the C.D.C. said.
If you travel to an area without an outbreak, you should be prepared for the possibility of being quarantined if an outbreak develops in the region where you’re traveling.
Dr. Maldonado recommended against going abroad for that reason alone.
“It’s just too unpredictable right now to get out and find yourself quarantined for a couple of weeks,” she said.
Take precautions when traveling.
If you do decide to travel — within the United States or abroad — experts advise that you wash your hands with soap often, avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth, and use alcohol wipes and gels with at least 60 percent alcohol if you need to wipe down a surface or do not have access to running water and soap.
Don’t bother using a standard face mask unless you are ill, because they have not been shown to be effective at preventing illness and can give a false sense of security, Dr. Mina said.
And if you think you might be sick, cough into your elbow rather than your hands.
Try to stay away from people who appear to be sick, but keep in mind that some people with the virus do not show symptoms or only have mild symptoms, which is another reason good hygiene is important.
“I think that it would be very, very surprising if it did not transmit at least to some degree asymptomatically,” Dr. Mina said. “The majority of symptoms from a viral infection come from the immunological response to that infection. So by the time you’re actually having symptoms you’ve already enlisted a pretty good, robust immune response and that means you’ve already had virus that’s replicating.”
Stay up-to-date on the latest news.
Ever since news of the coronavirus outbreak surfaced in January, the updates have been swift and unpredictable. The outbreak, which originated in China, quickly spread to other countries.
Families making vacation plans need to be prepared to pivot at a moment’s notice.
For the latest information, check the C.D.C. website for travel alerts and the website of the W.H.O., which has been issuing daily updates about the spread of the coronavirus. The New York Times has also been tracking news about the outbreak in a series of live updates and articles.
One silver lining for parents traveling with kids is that children appear to be less susceptible to coronavirus than middle-aged or older adults, though it is unclear what part they may play in spreading the disease.
[Need a primer on coronavirus? Here’s what parents need to know.]
As information emerges about how the virus is transmitted and how lethal it is, you can make a more informed decision about what risks you’re willing to take while traveling. Right now, the mortality rate of coronavirus is still poorly understood, in part because we don’t truly know how many people have been infected. People with mild cases, for example, may have never visited a doctor and some deaths may be unreported. Right now experts say that coronavirus has a fatality rate of under 3 percent. It appears to be more deadly than influenza, which has a fatality rate of 0.1 percent, but much less deadly than MERS or SARS, two different types of coronaviruses.
Consider buying travel insurance.
During the travel ban to China and other high-risk areas, major US airlines have been canceling flights and offering free rebooking or refunds. But what if you’re concerned about an area that doesn’t have a travel ban?
[Advice about traveling during the coronavirus outbreak.]
Kasara Barto, public relations manager at Squaremouth, a travel insurance comparison service, said the company received a “huge spike” in calls from travelers asking about insurance coverage during the coronavirus outbreak.
It’s important to read all the fine print and understand what trip insurance does and doesn’t cover to ensure that you’ll receive a reimbursement.
“Under a standard policy, fear of traveling is never a covered reason to cancel a trip,” Barto said.
There is, however, a “cancel for any reason” policy, she said, that allows travelers to cancel their plans for any reason at all — including worries about contracting coronavirus — up to three days before departure and receive a refund of up to 75 percent of the prepaid trip.
This type of insurance doesn’t come cheap. It’s usually 40 percent pricier than standard policies, and it typically must be purchased within three weeks of the first day you begin booking your travel plans, Barto said.
Some insurance policies are more family-friendly than others, so it’s smart to compare policies on TravelInsurance.com, Squaremouth, InsureMyTrip or other similar websites to assess whether the cost of the insurance would be worthwhile.
And if you’re thinking about traveling outside the United States and your health insurance doesn’t cover you while you’re abroad, you may want to consider medical travel insurance that would substitute for your United States health insurance. Experts recommend purchasing not only emergency medical coverage but also emergency medical transportation coverage.
If you’re feeling very anxious, it might be best to stay home.
News about the virus is changing by the day, and everyone has a different tolerance for risk. There are fewer and fewer places now where there aren’t reported cases.
“If you’re not going to enjoy your vacation because you’re nervous about this, then it’s probably not worth you going,” he said.
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