After two years of pandemic living, many of us are planning our first getaway this summer. But as much as we’re excited about traveling and making fun memories again, we’re a little nervous about different variants we’re still hearing about.
We asked Priya Soni, M.D., a pediatric infectious disease expert at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, how to safely travel this summer.
How can families stay safe on the plane and in airports?
I would say the first and easiest way to stay safe, especially when traveling with unvaccinated children, would be to wear a surgical mask, KN95 or N95 mask, regardless of what the airlines require. This remains the best way to stay safe, especially if transmission of the virus remains high at your destination. While the sub-variant known as BA.2 is impacting parts of Asia and Europe, we have yet to see a similar uptick of BA.2 in the United States. This doesn’t mean it won’t happen. In fact, it likely will. With families traveling more and more for summer, wearing a mask securely during your travels is the most important step to remain safe. High risk areas of transmission remain where people are gathering closer, including during the airport security line, public bathrooms and during the on-boarding/deplaning process. If you’re not actively eating, my recommendation would be to 100 percent keep your mask on to protect yourself and your family.
Second, now that the second SARS-CoV-2 booster has been approved for adults over 50 years old, I would highly recommend that you get one prior to any travel. This booster dose can be given as soon as four to six months since your last booster. This additional fourth dose may be the difference between you falling ill and getting hospitalized during your travels and/or having to potentially quarantine at your travel destination. It is important to remember that those that received Johnson and Johnson initially may be boosted with an mRNA vaccination — either Moderna or Pfizer, and that this is recommended. Many folks suggest waiting to get the second booster until the fall when COVID may be circulating at higher rates, but I say if you’re a high-risk individual that’s tolerated the prior doses well and are traveling soon, why take the risk of exposure and potential complications? Get the second booster now.
And how should families navigate COVID testing before, during and after travel?
COVID-19 testing has become increasingly streamlined with the robust ability to rapid antigen test at home. If you’re going to visit a high-risk individual that is immunocompromised, like a grandparent in another state, my suggestion would be to obtain antigen testing to perform the date you travel and prior to spending time with the person or persons. Please remember to only use antigen tests that are authorized by the FDA.
Testing rules for out-of-country travel depend on the destination and are easily accessible via the U.S. government website. I would advise to check in with this resource and plan for COVID tests while abroad appropriately. Many countries do require travelers to be PCR negative upon arrival. These tests can often be completed in the airport but will need to be scheduled and coordinated ahead of time.
Additionally, if you contract COVID-19 now or after travels, the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] has provided a helpful resource called the “Quarantine and Isolation Calculator” to help determine steps to prevent spread.
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