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Summer vacation: What are the risks?

By Marnie Hunter, CNN | Posted - Jun. 4, 2020 at 10:27 a.m.



NEW YORK (CNN) — In this new normal where everything is a calculation, summer vacation presents a whole host of questions.

Is (fill in anything fun) safe?

While there are few activities that are risk-free, thinking scenarios through goes a long way toward making summer travel plans that sound reasonably safe — and fun.

Here are some of the big questions to consider:

Q: Can I drive to another state?

Like most things coronavirus>-related, it's complicated. While many U.S. states have started to lift their most stringent Covid-19 lockdown measures, many are wary of out-of-state visitors.

Some have imposed mandatory or suggested 14-day quarantines for those coming from out of state. Restrictions may apply to all out-of-state visitors or to arrivals from specific areas hard-hit by outbreaks.

In Florida, for example, an executive order requires travelers from New York, New Jersey, Connecticut or Louisiana to self-isolate or self-quarantine for 14 days.

Travelers should research state and local government policies in places where they might stay overnight. USA Today has compiled a state-by-state list of travel policies and restrictions.

And is Covid-19 spreading widely in your area or where you're going? The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends factoring this into your decision, as well as whether you can properly social distance at your destination and whether you or someone you live with is more likely to get very ill with Covid-19.

Q: Is staying in a hotel safe?

Just as in other places, the greatest risk of transmission in hotels is likely in situations where you're in close contact with other people, said Dr. Henry Wu, director of the Emory TravelWell Center in Atlanta, via email.

Social distancing and wearing masks in places such as elevators and lobbies can reduce those risks.

Contaminated surfaces seem to pose a lesser risk, but you'll still want to check into a hotel's sanitation procedures, Wu said. Many large chains have outlined the specifics of their enhanced cleaning protocols online.

To be extra safe, "wiping down high-touch surfaces in the room (door knobs, faucets, light switches etc.) upon arrival with a disinfectant wipe or alcohol is a good idea," he said.

In most situations, the novel coronavirus is unlikely to survive on surfaces more than a few days.

"For that reason, I would request a room that has been vacant for as long as possible — ideally several days or more."

Q: What about Airbnb stays?

While rental properties "might involve less contact with others, there might be significant variation in adherence to good cleaning procedures," Wu said.

Airbnb has provided cleaning and sanitation guidance to hosts and plans to provide hosts with step-by-step cleaning protocols in the near future in partnership with experts such Dr. Vivek Murthy, former U.S. Surgeon General.

Bringing along your own supplies to sanitize high-touch areas and renting a place that has been vacant for a few days are both smart ideas.

Q: Is renting a car OK?

Car rental companies, like major hotel brands, have adopted enhanced cleaning procedures, but sanitizing frequently touched surfaces — door handles, turn signal, steering wheel — is still good practice.

"Similar to the hotel advice, the car that has been unused the longest is probably the one least likely to have infectious virus in it — even better if it has been parked under the sun in a hot parking lot," Wu said.

Q: Which is safer, flying or driving?

There's no easy answer here. It really depends, and Wu reminds people not to forget the very real risk of car accidents.

If you're considering risks based on Covid-19 alone, there are still many factors to consider.

"While air travel introduces much uncertainty (e.g. How full will the plane be? Will someone sick be sitting near you?), airports and airlines have implemented many precautions," Wu wrote. "Furthermore if the flight is short, then the duration of risk exposure could be limited."

Driving your own car is a well-controlled environment, but each stop introduces some risk.

Wu advises travelers to pack as much food and drink as possible and try to stop only in places where distancing is not difficult. Wear a mask when others are around and keep your distance, frequently wash or sanitize your hands and be careful not to touch your face.

Sharing the vehicle with people who aren't among your close contacts adds risk, especially if the trip is long, Wu noted. "If this is not avoidable, I would advise all occupants wear face coverings."

Q: Can I go to the beach?

Yep.

"If a park, beach, or recreational facility is open for public use, visiting is okay as long as you practice social distancing and everyday steps such as washing hands often and covering coughs and sneezes," the CDC advises.

And swimming is OK, with the same caution to social distance.

There's no evidence that Covid-19 spreads to humans through water, the CDC says.

Q: What about camping?

Camping in an area where you're close to other campers or where shared facilities such as restrooms are involved pose the same sorts of risks as many other scenarios.

The same precautions apply: social distancing, disinfecting surfaces, washing hands, wearing masks.

Remote areas with limited access to medical care also pose a risk, especially for people who might be more likely to become very ill with Covid-19.

While many state and national parks have gradually reopened, some facilities are still limited. Find out what's offered and what's not and plan to bring all the supplies you'll need to adapt.

Don't choose the most popular park in your area, and find another spot if the trail or campground you're eying is crowded.

Related:

Q: What about visiting an amusement park?

"This is a tough one," Wu said.

Amusement parks "have some inherent issues that might increase risk: Crowded areas mixing many individuals from different areas, frequently touched surfaces (e.g. handlebars or seat belts on ride), and many younger adults and children that might be more likely to have mild or asymptomatic illness," he said.

While most parks are still closed, there are plans to reopen.

Disney World is set to start welcoming guests again in July with a host of new touchless features and social distancing protocols.

Q: Are indoor attractions such as museums safe?

Indoor settings are riskier than outdoor settings for coronavirus transmission. And crowded indoor settings are worse.

"However, if the establishment was careful about limiting the number of guests and maintaining distancing between them, this would reduce the risk," Wu said.

There's no one-size-fits all guide to summer vacation, especially in the age of coronavirus. But thinking through each scenario can help create a safer version of your very much-needed break.

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