We are more than seven months into the COVID-19 pandemic. As we enter the holiday season, many of us are struggling with the idea of not spending time with family and friends or participating in longstanding traditions. Thanksgiving in particular is usually a time to get together with our loved ones and give thanks for the many good things in our lives, even in these difficult times. These are tough choices. We hope to answer some of the most common questions about travel and holidays with this FAQ.
Work implications of travel
The choice of how to engage this holiday is a personal one, but we ask that you please remember that your choices affect our entire community. We have all done a remarkable job maintaining public health measures and keeping rates of COVID-19 very low on our campuses to date. Let’s continue to work together to keep our community as safe as possible for all of us.
Is it safe to travel or visit family over the holidays?
Because COVID-19 is widespread throughout the United States, it is possible to contract it in any number of regular daily activities – shopping, going to the gym, eating at restaurants or hanging out with friends or family. Travel is no exception, but there are a number of things you can do to maximize your safety. Importantly, the highest risk activity is not the travel itself, as long as travelers take reasonable precautions, but what you do once you reach your destination. Social gatherings with large numbers of people, even family, are your greatest risk for becoming infected with COVID-19. Virtual gatherings (e.g., Zoom, FaceTime) are the safest way to see distant family.
Does it matter where I travel?
At this time, all of the United States has significant community spread. When this is the case, traveling anywhere in the country is not significantly riskier than staying in St Louis.
What is the safest way to travel?
The safest way to travel is to drive only with people who live with you. Next safest is traveling with a limited number of safely behaving acquaintances, with everyone still wearing masks throughout the travel duration.
How can I keep myself safe while traveling?
- First and foremost, if you have any symptoms of COVID-19 (fever, new or worsening cough, trouble breathing, chills, unexplained muscle or body aches, loss of smell/taste, new or worse sore throat or new or worse diarrhea), DO NOT TRAVEL.
- Make sure you bring protective supplies with you, including extra masks, hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes.
- Wear your mask at all times when in the same place as other people. This includes while in lines, in airports or train stations, on the plane/train/bus, and in taxis and shuttles. If you have access to a medical mask, consider using this for crowded areas in particular.
- When booking travel, choose companies that have and enforce mask requirements.
- Ask to be reseated if you are within one to two rows/seats of any unmasked passengers.
- Avoid removing your mask. If you need to hydrate while traveling, take short sips of your drink and promptly put your mask back on. Avoid eating meals if at all possible.
- Wipe high-touch surfaces around your seat.
- Wash/sanitize your hands before and after being in public settings and always before you eat.
- Keep windows open in cars, taxis, shared-ride services and on buses if possible.
What are the safest places to stay if I travel?
Single-occupancy places like home rentals or Airbnb are probably lower risk than hotels, but hotels can also be safe. Choose hotels that have and enforce mask requirements. While there, avoid indoor facilities like the pool, gym, restaurants and especially bars.
How do I stay safe when I am celebrating Thanksgiving with others?
The safest way to stay safe is to celebrate only with those with whom you live. If you decide to celebrate with others, there are a couple of things you can do to improve your safety:
- Ensure all participants check themselves for COVID-19 symptoms just prior to coming together.
- Keep gatherings small and only with those you have confidence are following public health measures. Numbers should be less than 10; the fewer the better.
- Maintain physical distancing of six or more feet between people at all times.
- Wear masks when not eating.
- Consider eating in shifts to limit the number of people unmasked at one time.
- Wash hands before and after eating.
Should I be tested for COVID-19 before I travel or visit family?
Unfortunately, asymptomatic testing is of very little value in this setting. As recent events in both the White House and the NFL have demonstrated, even daily testing cannot prevent the spread of COVID-19 among people when they are not following public health measures, even among their loved ones. This is because the test only documents that you are not shedding virus in the moment that the test is done and likely over the next 18-24 hours. A person who was exposed one to two days prior to travel would almost certainly test negative but still actually be contagious on Thanksgiving Day or in the days that follow. Also, a negative test may sometimes be a false negative, meaning you could still unknowingly have COVID-19 at the time the test is done and pass it to others if not all mitigation steps listed above are taken. Anyone who is symptomatic or who has been exposed to a person known to have COVID-19 should not travel and members of the university community should contact either the COVID-19 Call Center (314-362-5056) or, for students, Habif Health and Wellness Center (Danforth Campus, 314-935-6666) or Student Health (Medical Campus, 314-362-3523).
Should I be tested when I return?
For the same reasons that testing before travel or a family affair is not helpful, it is of similar limited value on return. The various timings of exposure during a four-day holiday make it impossible to anticipate the best day for any single individual to test and the majority of folks who were exposed during travel would test negative because of the timing, providing a false sense of security.