Flying during the Pandemic

Flying during the Pandemic

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Stay Home and Stay Healthy, the Washington State’s COVID-19 emergency order, began a little over two months ago. But it seems like it was a completely different time—a time without Zoom and face masks, and when five feet did not seem like an unsafe intrusion on personal space. While it has been frustrating to build new routines and redefine our “normal,” the Stay Home and Stay Healthy order is working; it is keeping us, and our community, safe. Being a Public Health employee, and knowing the importance of Stay Home and Stay Healthy, made my decision to KEEP my Memorial Day travel plans incredibly tough.

Like many others, I booked airfare and solidified travel plans in early fall of 2019. And then COVID-19 happened. Unlike many others, my flight did not get canceled. It did get rescheduled several times, but never canceled.

Picture me singing Should I Stay or Should I Go by The Clash in my head. Because that is exactly what I did. “It would be wrong of me to go,” I thought to myself. “This trip isn’t technically essential…I could risk getting others sick.” I worried and I felt guilty. However, after weighing the pros and cons, and speaking with family and co-workers, I decided that going was the right decision for me.

I knew that my travel destination/plans were fairly low risk. I would be visiting two national parks, both of which had protocols in place to keep visitors safe during the pandemic. But getting to and from my destination—spending time in an airport and on an airplane—made me nervous.

My Experience in the Airport and Beyond:

I was pleasantly surprised! When I first arrived at the airport, it was empty…or almost empty. There were a couple of people but not many. It was very easy to maintain a six-foot distance from everyone. Also, almost immediately upon entering the airport, an announcement coming from the PA system stated that “masks are required.” I took a couple more steps and saw visual signs mirroring the same message. I looked around and sure enough, most people were wearing masks. I let out a sigh of relief and kept walking.

I walked up to one of the Alaska Airlines kiosks with the intention of printing my boarding pass. It was closed, and so were the surrounding kiosks. Experiencing some confusion, I asked for assistance and was directed to a specific section of kiosks that were open and being wiped down between users. After I printed my boarding pass, I walked straight through security. Literally, there was no line. A TSA agent did confirm my identity and in doing so, I had to remove my mask. Given that there was no one around me and my mask was off for less than five seconds, I felt safe.

While sitting at the gate, an Alaska Airlines agent announced that masks are required on all Alaska flights. This message was reaffirmed by the flight attendants and we were asked to keep our masks on during the entire flight unless eating or drinking. Bottled water and a snack mix were distributed. However, no beverage or snack cart services occurred. To help with social distancing, all passengers were given an entire row to themselves unless traveling with a family member. Therefore, I stretched out, watched some Netflix and before I knew it, arrived at my destination. My experience flying back to Seattle was nearly identical.

Tips or Things to Think About when Flying/Traveling during COVID-19

  1. Plan Ahead.

While airports may have implemented strict protocol for keeping passengers safe during COVID-19, not all states have. Some states are still “open” which means people may not be taking the same safety precautions you are used to.  Research your destination and the state’s current COVID-19 plan/order. The CDC provides a list of questions to reflect on, that may help you decide if traveling is the right choice for you and your family.

If you decide to travel, protect yourself and others during your trip. Use your best judgement—social distance (keep six feet of physical distance from other), wear a mask, practice hand hygiene and cleanliness, even when others are not!

  • Be Flexible.

Airlines are doing their best to keep everyone safe during this difficult time. This may result in flights being canceled or changed. So, it is extremely important to be flexible, check your email and flight reservation regularly. My flight departure time changed three times and reduced the length of my trip by seven hours.  

Depending on the airline and your desire, you may be able to cancel your flight and be refunded, given a voucher or simply change your day/time of flight without paying any additional fees. However, this is not guaranteed.

  • Come Prepared.

Airports and airlines have implemented protocol for keeping passengers safe during COVID-19. But this does not mean that your risk of exposure is zero. Come prepared and stay safe with hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes, a water bottle and snacks.

  • Wearing a mask was required in the airport and during my flight. Bring a mask/face covering! If you do not have a mask, come prepared to ask for one once you arrive at the airport.
  • Airport bathrooms are often spread out and hand washing stations are not always close by. Try not to touch your face. But if you are like me, and not touching your face is nearly impossible, make sure you have hand sanitizer and use it frequently! You may also find yourself sitting in a seat, or touching surfaces that have not been recently cleaned. Along with hand sanitizing, bringing and using disinfectant wipes may be beneficial.
  • Do not assume that all stores and restaurants within the airport will be open. From my observation, about 50% of them were closed. Also, the airline you are flying with may not providing in-flight beverage and snack services. So, fill up your water bottle after going through security, and bring snacks if you think you’ll be hungry.

Find more advice and Travel FAQ’s here  

Please remember:

If you feel sick prior to traveling, stay home. From my observation, airlines are being more accommodating than normal regarding cancelations, refunds, vouchers, and flight changes.

If you feel sick during or after traveling, self-isolate and get tested. If you are experiencing severe symptoms, please consult your primary care physician for advice on next steps.

COVID-19: Lessons Learned from a Skagit Dairy Farmer

Reading Time: 3 minutes
Guest Author: Skagit County Commissioner, Ron Wesen

As many of you know, I am a fourth-generation dairy farmer. Herd management, which is key in dairy farming, involves creating the conditions that allow cattle to thrive and includes everything from cow nutrition, to farm finances, to cattle comfort and milking. It also includes the important area of disease management.

As a Skagit County Commissioner, much of my time lately has been focused on working with our Public Health officials and medical professionals to slow the spread of COVID-19. As my time in the dairy industry has often been focused on preventing the spread of communicable diseases in cattle, local coronavirus efforts are familiar to me in many ways.

A number of common communicable diseases can affect a herd. Just like humans, some cattle are going to become ill even when using the best management practices. Unchecked, these diseases can drastically reduce milk output and, in some cases, affect the safety of the milk product for consumers. Disease is not something dairy farmers take lightly. Some of these illnesses do not have a medical cure or the treatment of cattle conflicts with national organic standards. Instead, farmers regularly use a number of strategies to prevent illness from spreading through the herd:

  • Separating sick cows from healthy ones keeps illness from spreading either through secretions or close contact.
  • Keeping a clean, dry, comfortable environment reduces the cows’ stress (and makes it more likely they will recover) and keeping the area as clean as possible prevents disease spread through surface contact.
  • Wearing gloves during milking time reduces the spread of certain diseases of the udder, like mastitis.
  • We use iodine to disinfect milking equipment between every cow.
  • Farmers test and isolate any new cattle before bringing them into the herd to ensure that cows aren’t infected with a disease that can spread.
  • Making sure that cattle are healthy before they arrive on the farm can save a lot of heartache later.

Does this sound familiar to you? It should. It’s physical distancing and good hygiene.

We use these techniques because, like COVID-19, many herd diseases can be passed from cow to cow even when the animals do not yet show symptoms.Although tests exist for many illnesses, it’s still possible for some diseases to spread between cattle before any test can detect them. Also, cattle may become infected after you have tested. Testing is a tool, not a silver bullet, so physical distancing is key.

Further, as the old adage goes, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Treating communicable disease outbreaks in a herd can be very expensive for farmers and have long-term repercussions for the productivity of the farm. Regularly using physical distancing practices and good hygiene keeps disease from becoming rampant in dairy herds. Continuing to stay home, stay healthy will likewise keep Skagit County from potentially reaching a crisis situation in our food banks, social service organizations, hospitals and other medical services.

I know physical distancing works and that it is the best tool for stopping the spread of COVID-19 because I’ve seen it work every single day on the farm. For generations, ranchers have relied on these tried and true measures for promoting the health of a herd.

Obviously, this isn’t a perfect comparison; people aren’t cows. For one, cows don’t suffer economic hardship from physical distancing – farmers continue to feed animals regardless of whether or not they’re being milked or are “working.” However, we can see that social distancing is working among people, as it does with cattle, and slowing the transmission COVID-19 in Skagit County. We have seen long-term success in our local dairy industry, and we have demonstrated success among Skagitonians in our open and safe hospitals, as well as our low level of coronavirus illness and loss of life.

As we wait for a vaccine, we will need a robust statewide contact tracing process and enough supplies to test people frequently before we can begin reopening large portions of our community. This is our new normal. We’ll have to continue observing many of these practices, much like our dairy farmers have been doing for hundreds of years.

Thank you to everyone who has been practicing physical distancing and following Governor Inslee’s Stay Home, Stay Healthy guidelines. My fellow Commissioners and I are so proud to represent each and every one of you. Please, continue to think like a dairy farmer: stay strong, stay home, and stay healthy.

Skagit County Commissioner, Ron Wesen.
Ron Wesen, Skagit County Commissioner and fourth-generation dairy farmer.