‘The virus will not be on vacation’: COVID-19 and summer travel
As states begin reopening amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and with the summer months approaching, people are leaving their homes more often to travel to beaches and vacation areas.
Donald W. Schaffner, PhD, distinguished professor and extension specialist at Rutgers University, told Healio Primary Care that people traveling to vacation spots have potential to further the spread COVID-19 in vacation communities.
“The most important thing to realize about the virus is that it is spread by person-to-person contact either from symptomatic or asymptomatic individuals,” Schaffner said. “As we start to move around more, there is a significant chance that this will promote the spread of the virus. There is good evidence that current social distancing practices have helped us to flatten the curve.”
Precautions while traveling
Schaffner noted that those who experience symptoms should not travel, and those who have already traveled should isolate themselves and shelter in place until they no longer experience symptoms.
“People should also realize that traveling by air, bus or train will also place them in close proximity to others who may be shedding the virus,” he continued. “Everyone should continue with good hand-washing and use of hand sanitizer.”
The risk for COVID-19 transmission from a rental home or hotel is “relatively low” because most transmission is believed to be from person to person, according to Schaffner.
However, he noted that “there is still a possibility that the virus can be transmitted by fomites (inanimate objects) like doorknobs and other high-touch surfaces.”
Patients who are concerned about risk in their vacation rental hotel should contact the owners or managers of the property to inquire about their disinfection and sanitation practices, Schaffner said.
Health care in vacation spots
Although beaches are reopening, Kenneth N. Sable, MD, MBA, FACEP, regional president of Hackensack Meridian Health in southern New Jersey, which has health care facilities along the Jersey Shore, said beaches “will not be business as usual for local municipalities and beachgoers.”
He explained that the state’s governor and Department of Health released directives that require capacity limits to be enforced on beaches, along with social distancing measures, including prohibiting activities like contact sports and organized events.
Beaches and lakefronts in New Jersey will be allowed to keep public spaces like bathrooms, changing areas and showers open but are required to close picnic areas, water fountains, playgrounds and recreational buildings such as visitor centers, according to a press release.
Sable noted that Hackensack Meridian Health employees “support these measures and encourage everyone to adhere to the guidelines to help prevent infection; practicing effective hand hygiene, wearing masks, remaining isolated if feeling ill, and maintaining social distance from each other.”
In addition to supporting these efforts, Hackensack Meridian Health is following CDC recommendations and state guidelines to ensure patients and health care workers are properly protected.
These measures include treating patients with COVID-19 in separate areas of their hospitals, monitoring the temperature of all those who enter their health care facilities, rigorous cleaning and sanitizing, COVID-19 testing, having appropriate personal protective equipment for health care workers, and limiting visitation in hospitals, nursing homes and rehabilitation facilities.
According to Sable, there has been a decline in patients with COVID-19 in New Jersey. However, he noted that “if the situation changes and we experience a drastic increase in COVID-19 patients throughout our state, restricting travel should be given careful consideration.”
Schaffner noted that the decision to cancel or maintain vacation plans is one patients will need to make for themselves.
“I certainly understand the desire to get out and go somewhere different if you have been sheltering in place for the past couple months,” he said. “If you do decide to take a vacation, please realize that the virus will not be on vacation, and all of the same social distancing practices should be maintained.” – by Erin Michael
NJ.gov. Governor Murphy signs executive order allowing beaches, boardwalks, lakes, and lakeshores to remain open with social distancing measures in place. https://www.nj.gov/governor/news/news/562020/20200514b.shtml. Accessed May 22, 2020.
Disclosure: Sable is an employee of Hackensack Meridian Health. Schaffner reports receiving a small annual fee for serving on the GOJO food safety advisory committee.