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Reconsidering Travel & Gatherings Amid COVID-19

Dec 7, 2020 By Breanna Shirk
People in a car wearing clinical masks

As temperatures drop, COVID-19 cases continue to increase, and stay-at-home measures tighten, many of us are making tough decisions in order to protect the health of ourselves, our household, and our communities. Travel plans are once again being postponed, and gatherings with friends and family are being reconsidered.

“It’s understandable to feel isolated, restless and fatigued, especially during this time of year when many people look forward to celebrating with the ones they love,” says Natasha Bhuyan, MD, family provider at One Medical in Arizona. “But it’s important to remember that by opting out of gatherings and trips this year, you’re doing what you can to ensure that you will be able to see your friends and family in years to come, and others will be able to do the same.”

Every person’s situation is unique, so we encourage yourself to ask these important questions when navigating decisions around gatherings and travel:

Who will be at the gathering?

While it’s undeniably difficult for many not to visit with friends and family members after six plus months of social distancing, it’s more important than ever to keep your loved ones safe from COVID-19. With this in mind, health officials recommend keeping gatherings limited to your household, or your existing quarantine “pod.”

If you are thinking about gathering with those outside your household or “pod,” consider the COVID-19 risk associated with each person that will be there. Are they part of a vulnerable group (i.e. over the age of 65 or have pre-existing conditions) that could experience worse outcomes if they do become infected with COVID-19? Is there anyone in attendance that has not been socially distancing, either due to their occupation or living situation (i.e. an essential worker who interacts with the public regularly, a college student who has been exposed to roommates coming and going, or someone who traveled to the gathering by plane)? If the answer is yes to either of these questions, it’s best to stay home and opt for a virtual gathering instead. You can also reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 by arranging for everyone at the gathering to be tested beforehand (more on proper testing timelines below).

What kind of gathering?

The safest kind of gathering is one that is held at home, with your immediate household, or virtually with others. As the number of people increases at any physical gathering, so does the risk. If you are going to gather with others outside of your household, you can lower but not eliminate the risk by holding the gathering outdoors, allowing for proper social distancing of at least six feet, and wearing masks whenever you’re not eating.

If you are unable to host your gathering outdoors, the CDC recommends wearing masks in all indoor settings. Consider catching up with loved ones in a way that allows you to keep your mask on and social distance, rather than eating a meal. If you do eat a meal indoors, try to enjoy it in a well-ventilated area (near open windows or doors, or with a HEPA filter), make sure not to share utensils, and maintain at least six feet distance.

What type of travel is involved?

There is always risk associated with traveling outside of your community during COVID-19, and the CDC continues to urge people to stay home. If you need to travel, there are many factors that impact your level of risk. For example, car travel is less risky than plane or public transit, because you will be exposed to less people. It’s even less risky if you’re driving alone or carpooling with people that are already in your household, and if you’re driving a short enough distance that you don’t need to stop for gas, food or bathroom breaks.

It’s also important to keep in mind the transmission rates in your home community, and the community you’re traveling to. This handy tool will help you not only track the transmission risk in any given area, but also how that risk increases with the number of people gathering. Additionally, many local governments have put stay-at-home and quarantine measures in place to help limit the amount of potential spread in their community, so it’s important to make sure that any travel plans are not in violation of local mandates.

Are you able to use COVID-19 testing effectively?

A negative COVID-19 test alone does not eliminate the risk of travel and/or gathering. The most effective window to test for coronavirus is 5-8 days after your day of potential exposure, so it’s important to schedule time to quarantine for at least five days before your test, and to continue quarantining not only until you receive your results, but until the day of your meet-up. Learn more about the types of COVID-19 tests available, and the proper timelines for testing.

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Breanna Shirk

The One Medical blog is published by One Medical, an innovative primary care practice with offices in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Orange County,Phoenix, Portland, San Diego, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, and Washington, DC.

Any general advice posted on our blog, website, or app is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace or substitute for any medical or other advice. The One Medical Group entities and 1Life Healthcare, Inc. make no representations or warranties and expressly disclaim any and all liability concerning any treatment, action by, or effect on any person following the general information offered or provided within or through the blog, website, or app. If you have specific concerns or a situation arises in which you require medical advice, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified medical services provider.