Travel doctor shares flying, driving safety tips for Thanksgiving

Many of us are still on the fence about our Thanksgiving plans. Is it safe to travel, and, if so, should we drive or fly? With much of the US experiencing a surge in COVID-19 infections, the stakes are high.

Dr. Henry Wu, director of the Emory TravelWell Center, says he has decided to stay home this year, rather than risk exposing his older parents to the novel coronavirus.

Still, Dr. Wu says, if you need to travel, he believes you can do so relatively safely with some planning and vigilance.

For air passengers, Dr. Wu, says, high-tech air filtration systems in aircraft cabins and blocked off middle seating can limit the spread of the virus, and so can requiring passengers and crew to wear masks.

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“If everyone wears their mask on the flight, this can really reduce chance of any the transmission episode on the flight," Dr. Wu says. "You might also consider wearing a face shield or goggles.  We think there may be some added protective effect. However, if you wear a face shield, you certainly need to wear a mask underneath it."

To limit the need to take of your mask during the flight, Wu suggests eating or drinking before you board the aircraft.

He also recommends using hand sanitizer instead of getting up out of your seat to wash your hands in the aircraft bathrooms.

"Keep also in mind that it's not just the flight itself, but it's every step of the trip, that can introduce some risk, whether it's transiting to the airport, the security lines and the check-ins,"  he says. "So, do not let your guard down."

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Also, remember that 6-foot rule? Dr. Wu says be religious about keeping your distance from others.

"I encourage travelers in general to internalize that advice," he says.  "Expand your definition of your personal space, so it's an automatic reflex to keep your distance from others."

Driving is probably your safest mode of travel, he says, because you can better control your level of exposure to other people.

"I would try to limit whoever is in your car to your immediate household," Wu says.  "You can bring your own food and water to limit your stops.  Plan your route carefully. That can help keep it safe."

If you stop for meals, he says, use the drive-thru or get your food to go, rather than eating inside the restaurant.

If you plan to stay overnight in a hotel, be careful about public spaces, like the front desk and elevators.

"Because the duration the virus can remain viable in the air and on the surfaces is limited, I generally prefer to have a room that has been vacated the longest," he says "The riskiest situation would be a room that has just been vacated by a guest or someone who has just cleaned it."

He also recommends wiping down "high-touch" surfaces in your hotel room, like doorknobs and faucet handles, with a disinfecting wipe.

Dr. Wu says he is getting a lot of questions about whether people should get tested for COVID-19 prior to traveling.

Testing can help catch infections.

Still, Dr. Wu cautions, the diagnostic tests are not foolproof, and it is possible to get a false-negative result, which could lead you to believe you are not infected and contagious when you are.

The only certain way to know that you do not have the virus would be to quarantine for 14 days prior to your trip. 

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