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UW doctor shares advice for holiday travel during the COVID pandemic

A Delta flight from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport flies nearly empty to JFK on March 15, 2020, near New York City. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

Thanksgiving is just a couple weeks away and the holiday season is fast approaching, but the COVID-19 pandemic shows no signs of slowing. The question on a lot of people’s minds is: Should I travel for the holidays?

The answer to that question depends on a number of factors, says Dr. Christopher Sanford at the UW Neighborhood Northgate Clinic.

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Ordinarily, Sanford says he’s a “travel enabler,” but “this is a different time.” Sanford says this is a big crisis and it’s smart to limit your travel.

Sanford mentions that recent research on airplanes has shown that the risk is fairly low if everyone wears a mask. Planes also have really good filters, Sanford added, so while there have been some cases of transmission via air travel, it’s not that many compared to how many people are flying.

However, he points out that there are other parts of travel involved besides the time on the plane, like getting to the airport, waiting at the airport, leaving the airport, and all the things you do on your trip.

If you’re traveling by car, you still have to stop for gas, for food, and you’ll stay somewhere, so while there are ways to bring your risk down — wearing a mask, washing your hands, social distance — no mode of travel is risk-free.

For anyone who decides to travel, Sanford recommends that they know what regulations are in place to slow the spread of COVID-19 and reduce transmission at their destination.

“Research the heck out of your destination,” he said. “As I say, with the counties being different in the U.S. and the countries being different on a country-by-country basis, there’s no one general rule.”

Sanford suggests considering your own medical history as well, because someone older or with chronic conditions, like obesity or diabetes — which can lead to more severe cases of COVID-19 — may want to stay home this year.

“Similarly with visitors, instead of having the family over at the holidays, maybe have two people over, and consider sitting outside and wearing masks,” Sanford said.

Travelers especially, but even those that stay home, should be careful to maintain distance from others outside your own household, wash and sanitize your hands frequently, and wear a mask.

“I really think it’s important to socialize less than usual in the flesh,” Sanford said. “Try to find other things such as Zoom meetings that can make up for that to bring your risk down as much as possible.”

Watch the full video from Dr. Sanford and UW Medicine here.

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