Traveling during a pandemic

Traveling during a pandemic involves “a nail-biting level of complexity,” Neil J. Sehgal, a health policy expert with the University of Maryland School of Public Health, told The Washington Post’s Dana Hedgpeth in October. So if you have to travel, planning is critical to reduce your chances of bringing the coronavirus with you.

Allow enough time to self-quarantine and get tested. Recommendations for how long you should self-quarantine have varied among experts. Some say at least several days ahead of traveling may be adequate, while others have suggested 14 days for maximum safety.

Before leaving, you should also get tested for the coronavirus, preferably with a PCR test, and obtain a negative result. But don’t let a single negative test lull you into a false sense of security. “The test is only a snapshot in time,” said Stephen Morse, a professor of epidemiology at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.

And depending on how you decide to travel, experts say, you may want to self-quarantine again after getting to your destination in case you were exposed to the virus along the way. State travel guidelines will also influence your quarantine and testing plan.

Drive alone, if you can. A solo road trip, or driving with people you know are low risk, has been recommended among experts as one of the safest ways to travel. “If you’re in your own car, then you’re controlling your exposures,” said Aaron Milstone, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins Hospital. When driving, you just need to focus on being careful anytime you’re outside your car.

There may be more chances of potential, sometimes prolonged, contact with strangers when traveling by plane, train or bus.

Is it safer to fly or drive during the pandemic? 5 health experts weigh in.

Try to travel at nonpeak times. Flight-search data suggests that the Saturday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving could be among the highest traffic days for airports. The Sunday after the holiday is expected to be the most popular return date. If possible, also consider traveling at night.

Be vigilant about safety. Whether you’re driving, flying or taking a train or bus, make sure you’re following public health recommendations, such as mask-wearing, practicing good hand hygiene and social distancing, whenever possible.

Prepare by stocking up on extra face masks, hand sanitizer that is at least 60 percent alcohol and sanitizing wipes. Face shields or goggles can serve as an added layer of protection.

The CDC also recommends getting a flu shot before traveling.