Restrictions are lifting. Vaccinations are accelerating. COVID-19 is retreating.
While the news has been more upbeat of late, the pandemic continues to cast a long shadow over lives. Even as we move back to normalcy, particularly here in Texas, prevention remains a crucial facet of day-to-day life.
This holds especially true for those who travel. Though the number of people traveling remains low compared to pre-pandemic numbers, more and more individuals are taking to the road and skies.
If you've yet to be vaccinated, it’s critical that you take precautions to ensure an enjoyable trip without getting sick. Here's an extensive guide and list of tips for safe domestic travel during COVID-19.
Verify If Restrictions Remain in Place at Your Destination
Before you travel, always check to see if your final destination — and any stopovers in between — still have COVID-19 restrictions in place.
Although many states are starting the process of opening back up, including Texas' recent decision to reopen fully, individual municipalities are choosing to keep certain precautions.
Some major cities and a handful of states still require quarantine for a set number of days before visitors can venture out — New York State and the city of Chicago among them. Also, be prepared to wear a mask. Even in states without mandates, local governments, federal facilities, and practically every major business has some type of mask mandate or policy in place.
Ultimately, check state and local restrictions before your trip — including any of those within the state of Texas. The CDC offers a handy tool to help you plan your journey accordingly.
Perhaps one of the more surprising developments to come from the pandemic was the relative safety of traveling via airplane. This is thanks in large part to onboard HEPA filters, which can block more than 99% of airborne microbes.
Airlines also adopted vigorous cleaning protocols and still require all passengers to wear masks both in airports and on board planes. Delta went so far as to restrict the use of a plane's middle seat to promote social distancing, though other carriers do have policies in place to accommodate fliers fearful of full planes.
Additional adjustments from carriers include far more lenient change policies — several of the nation's biggest airlines have gotten rid of change fees for the foreseeable future. However, it's worth noting that if you book a flight and then get cold feet, cancellation policies remain less forgiving. You won't get a refund, just a voucher for future travel, so buyer beware.
Many airports across the country have or are setting up on-site testing centers. If a passenger shows signs of illness or arrives with a fever exceeding 100.4 degrees, they can expect to be turned away from their flight.
Throughout the pandemic, traveling by car remained the safest way to get from Point A to Point B, assuming you were sharing the car with only immediate family. The problems arose when you reached your destination.
Although car travel between states remains unrestricted, there are a few exceptions. New York City has a 10-day quarantine in place and monitors traffic coming into the city via bridges and tunnels.
For the remainder of the country, checkpoints are few and far between. The most widely known border closing is between the U.S. and Canada, which has remained in place for much of the pandemic.
AAA has developed an informative travel map that provides a general overview of travel restrictions, mask requirements, and roadway checkpoints, among other data points.
Want to rent a car? Though it’s safer than public transportation by a long shot, you must still trust rental agencies to perform vehicle deep cleaning and disinfecting after a rental. Most do have stringent cleaning policies in place, but it's worth carrying disinfecting wet wipes to perform your own interior wipe-down.
If you do hit the road, take the appropriate precautions to avoid getting sick as you would anywhere else. And don't forget your mask. While mask mandates aren’t uniform, especially if you're traveling across state lines, you should expect to wear it quite often throughout your journey.
After several high-profile outbreaks and quarantines aboard cruise ships early in the pandemic, cruises have been a non-starter for the past year. The CDC stamped a "No-Sail" restriction on the industry, all but shutting down vessels coming and going from the U.S.
Though that restriction has been lifted, cruise lines themselves are uncertain about when they will return to full operation. If you've booked a cruise, the operators are allowing you the opportunity to cancel without penalty, issuing full refunds, or crediting a future trip.
The vast majority of hotels across the U.S. have taken steps to limit a traveler's potential exposure to the coronavirus. The safety protocols include a room deep cleaning and reduced occupancy based on local guidelines.
However, even before the pandemic, hotel rooms were popular harbingers for germs, viruses, and pests such as bed bugs. It was always a good practice to wipe down high-transmission spots yourself, and it's an even better practice now.
If you didn't already come armed with disinfectant wet wipes, you should. Wipe down a room's major touchpoints: doorknobs, light switches, faucets, comfort controls, and the remote.
If you plan on working for an extended period in your room, wipe down the desk or table as well. If you're seeking even greater peace of mind, call ahead to inquire about a specific hotel's policies and whether they suggest additional precautions worth taking on your part.
As a popular alternative to a hotel stay, Airbnbs have come under their own level of scrutiny. Although Airbnb does list a set of restrictions on its website, the patchwork of short-term vacation rentals doesn't guarantee that every rental meets local or state COVID-19 guidelines.
In fact, local municipalities throughout the country, including some states, placed short-term bans on rentals at various points over the past year. Although most areas of the country are now allowing rentals without restrictions, proceed with caution. Take the same mitigation efforts as you would when staying in a hotel.
Places like Walt Disney World or, given the current season, ski resorts in the western U.S. offer unique challenges to vacationers hoping to get away from the realities of life in a pandemic.
Currently, Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, is open for business. However, park attendance is limited and monitored, social distancing is strongly promoted, and face coverings and temperature screenings are required.
In Anaheim, California, Disneyland remains temporarily closed and is in the early stages of a phased opening. The resort's Downtown Disney District and Buena Vista Street are operating at a limited capacity.
Ski resorts also operate in a limited capacity and lift ticket purchases, and hotels have narrowed to specific capacities. Some, including Vail, have even extended their season to capture as many travelers as possible, given the limiting circumstances.
If you’re making grand summer plans, it's a good idea to verify well ahead of time if any restrictions may limit your visit. Although there is hope that some form of pre-pandemic normalcy will return to daily life by Independence Day, there's no guarantee that every locale and every resort will be operating at normal capacity or with full operations.
Testing and Vaccination
If you've tested positive for COVID-19 or been in contact with someone who has the virus or has been exposed to it, the CDC strongly discourages travel with the following statement (emphasis is theirs):
◾ Do NOT travel if you were exposed to COVID-19, you are sick, or you test positive for COVID-19. Learn when it is safe for you to travel. Don't travel with someone who is sick.
If you don't fall under one of the above scenarios and must travel domestically, the CDC recommends getting tested for COVID-19 no more than three days before your trip. They also advise you to keep a copy of your negative test results with you while traveling. Some areas of the country may ask to see proof of a negative test.
Certain areas of the country will allow you to opt out of a mandated quarantine with proof of a negative test, including the City of Chicago, Hawaii, and New York State.
Upon returning, the CDC suggests you get tested again. The recommendation is three to five days after your trip, and they advise self-quarantine for a full seven days (10 days should you opt not to get tested).
Of course, if you wish to travel and are eligible to get a vaccination, consider doing so. Until restrictions are fully lifted across the country, getting vaccinated will ensure your domestic travels will be as straightforward and hassle-free as possible.
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