Traveling for the Holidays?

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Holidays bring people together. Last year, many of us chose to come together virtually or in small groups. This year, with vaccination rates above 68 percent amongst Skagitonians 12 and older, we expect that folks will be eager to gather—and even travel once again. So, how do you travel safely? And should you travel at all? Below are some helpful tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

First off, the CDC continues to recommend that only those who are fully vaccinated should travel this holiday season. People are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after their second dose in a 2-dose series, such as the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or two weeks after a Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine.

If you are unvaccinated and MUST travel, the CDC has a list of recommendations below. These recommendations are also for those who have unvaccinated folks in their travel party, including young children who are not yet eligible for the vaccine.

For Domestic Travel

For people who are fully vaccinated

  • Before Travel:
    • You are not required to get tested or self-quarantine if you are fully vaccinated or have recovered from COVID-19 in the past 3 months.
    • You should still follow all other travel recommendations.
  • During Travel:
    • Wearing a mask over your nose and mouth is required on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation traveling into, within, or out of the United States.
    • Follow all state and local recommendations and requirements, including mask wearing and social distancing.
    • If travel to an area with high numbers of COVID-19 cases, consider wearing a mask in crowded outdoor settings and for activities with close contact with others who are not fully vaccinated.
  • After Travel:
    • Self-monitor for COVID-19 symptoms for 14 days; isolate and get tested if you develop symptoms.
    • Follow all state and local recommendations or requirements.

For people who are unvaccinated

If you are not fully vaccinated and must travel, take the following steps to protect yourself and others from COVID-19:

  • Before Travel:
    • Get tested with a viral test 1-3 days before your trip. Go here for a list of providers.
  • During Travel:
    • Wearing a mask over your nose and mouth is required on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation traveling into, within, or out of the United States The CDC recommends that travelers who are not fully vaccinated continue to wear a mask and maintain physical distance when traveling.
    • Avoid crowds and stay at least 6 feet from anyone who is not traveling with you.
    • Wash your hands often or use hand sanitizer.
  • After Travel:
    • Get tested with a viral test 3-5 days after travel AND stay home and self-quarantine for a full 7 days after travel.
      • Even if you test negative, stay home and self-quarantine for the full 7 days.
      • If your test is positive, isolate yourself to protect others from getting infected.
    • If you don’t get tested, stay home and self-quarantine for 10 days after travel.
    • Avoid being around people who are at increased risk for severe illness for 14 days, whether you get tested or not.
    • Self-monitor for COVID-19 symptoms; isolate and get tested if you develop symptoms.
    • Follow all state and local recommendations or requirements.

For International travel

Do not travel internationally until you are fully vaccinated. Fully vaccinated travelers are less likely to get and spread COVID-19. However, international travel poses additional risks, and even fully vaccinated travelers might be at increased risk for getting and possibly spreading some COVID-19 variants. If you are not fully vaccinated there will undoubtedly be additional requirements to follow before, during, and after travel.

NOTE: Travel requirements to enter the United States are changing for non-residents, starting November 8, 2021. More information is available here.

What international travelers need to know:

  • Check your destination’s COVID-19 situation and travel requirements before traveling. Countries may have their own entry and exit requirements.
  • When you travel to the United States by air, you are required to show a negative COVID-19 test result or documentation of recovery from COVID-19 before you board your flight. The timing of this test depends on your vaccination status and age.
  • Wearing a mask over your nose and mouth is required in indoor areas of public transportation (including airplanes) traveling into, within, or out of the United States and indoors in U.S. transportation hubs (including airports).

For more information about traveling internationally, go to: www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/international-travel/index.html.

Lastly—and as always: Do NOT travel if you were recently exposed to COVID-19, if someone in your party is sick, you are sick, you test positive for COVID-19, or you are waiting for results of a COVID-19 test. To learn when it is safe (or unsafe) to travel, visit the CDC’s travel page here: www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/when-to-delay-travel.html.


I’m traveling and I might be sick … what do I do?

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COVID-19 spreads quickly between individuals when in close contact with each other, like when on airplanes, trains or in cars. Sitting in close contact with anyone you don’t live with for a prolonged period of time puts you at higher risk of contracting COVID-19. Further, when driving long distances, you increase the likelihood that you’ll come into contact with more people than you normally would (stopping at gas stations or rest areas when driving, getting food, etc…).

This is why Public Health strongly discourages people from traveling outside of their immediate geographic area right now. We’ve said it repeatedly: Now is not the time to go see Grandma in Arizona or travel to your cousin’s wedding in Missouri. In fact, we wouldn’t even encourage you to get lunch with a friend in Seattle right now.

However, our case investigation data is showing that people are still traveling, and unfortunately, some are getting sick. Some of this travel is essential, like for work or to care for an ill family member. But all travel puts the traveler, the communities they visit, and their home community and family at risk. So, we feel compelled to explain what one should do if they’re far from home and start to get that cough and fever (or any other COVID-19 symptom) we all dread right now.

First, and most importantly: DO NOT TRY TO GET HOME.

If you’ve got symptoms, you need to hunker down wherever you are and do your best not to expose anyone else to the illness. Do not go to the store, do not let housekeeping clean your hotel room, and do not get back on an airplane. When you’re symptomatic, especially in the first days, it’s likely you’re highly contagious. You have a personal responsibility to not be in close contact with other people and not put them at risk of contracting COVID-19.

Related to this, anyone in your travel party (or any other close contacts you’ve had) shouldn’t travel or continue to be around other people either. The average person is contagious two days before symptoms present, so anyone you’ve been in close contact with (sharing a car, hotel room, sitting next to each other on airplane, etc.) has likely already contracted COVID-19 by the time your symptoms start to present. They also have a responsibility to not put anyone at risk and quarantine themselves so that COVID-19 doesn’t further spread to others

Second: Seek testing and, if you need it, medical care.

Wherever you are at, some kind of medical care should be available. If you have active symptoms, get tested as soon as possible. If you are the travel companion of a person with symptoms, wait 6-8 days after your companion’s symptoms started, and then seek testing.

Third: Cooperate with contact tracers.

It’s likely that if you’ve been traveling, you’ve come into contact with others who may now also be infected. Sharing that information with contact tracers is vital to prevent a cluster from growing. The information you share is confidential.  

Fourth: If your test comes back positive, you will need to isolate.

You will need to isolate for at least 10 days since the onset of symptoms (or test date, if you are asymptomatic). It is absolutely vital that you or anyone you have been traveling in close contact with do not get on an airplane, or any other sort of public transportation, during this time.

As you can see, traveling does not just increase your risk of getting sick, it also increases your risk of being stuck away from home while you are sick. This could mean out-of-network medical bills, prolonged hotel stays, and a need to change travel plans, which could be costly. This is not to mention being far from your support networks and trusted medical care. If you are choosing to travel right now, you need to have a plan in place to ensure you can quarantine or isolate wherever you are headed if the need arises.

If you are stuck somewhere and are unable to safely stay where you are, Public Health recommends renting a car and driving home. It will be important that you stop as little as possible, wear a mask whenever you have to get out of a car and try to sanitize anything you touch as you go. Every time you get out of the car, you risk exposing others to the virus—the customers and workers at the gas station or restaurant, housekeeping at the hotel, etc. Again, it’s important to remember that even if you’re the only one in your travel party exhibiting symptoms, it’s likely that your whole travel party is already infected and also contagious. Everyone needs to take the same level of precautions.

COVID-19 has taken a lot of things away from us, travel being one of them. Please, act responsibly so we can take care of each other and get back to normal as soon as possible.