‘Can I still go on that trip I planned?’ and other COVID-19 travel questions answered


Plane in sky

LANCASTER, Pa. (WHTM) — At the start of the summer, it looked like COVID-19 might have been under control, and after a year of lockdowns and too much time spent at home, many were eager to travel this season. But now with the rise of the delta variant, COVID-19 cases are surging again…just in time for those vacations you were finally able to book.

For those who are planning to travel in the near future, Dr. Joseph Kontra, chief of infectious diseases at Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health, encourages getting vaccinated and wearing face masks.

Masks are still required on public transportation like planes and buses at all times, but Kontra said that everyone, regardless of vaccination status, should consider masking up indoors and in crowded places.

“What’s different with delta is that we now know that it can, in some individuals, cause infection even if you’ve been vaccinated, and even though that infection will tend to be mild, you can still catch it and transmit it, so it’s a good idea to mask whether you’re vaccinated or not,” Kontra said.

Kontra urges anyone who has not been vaccinated to get the shot, as it reduces one’s chances of catching the coronavirus and because those who have been vaccinated are less likely to experience severe illness if they do contract COVID-19.

Here are Kontra’s answers to some other questions you may have about traveling safely during this phase of the COVID-19 pandemic:

Q: I planned a trip earlier in the summer before COVID-19 transmission ramped up again. Is it still safe for me to travel?

A: If you’ve planned a trip earlier in the summer and you’re deciding whether to go, you have to keep in mind where you’re going, you hopefully are vaccinated at this point, and take some masks with you because there is some threat of delta infecting those that have been vaccinated, [and] although the disease tends not to be serious in those individuals, you can still catch the virus and transmit it.

So when you’re out on vacation, if you’re in a crowded area indoors or there are a lot of people, certainly mask-wearing is a good idea. It’s recommended by CDC. But even if you’re outdoors, if you’re standing in line at an ice cream stand at the shore and there are people shoulder-to-shoulder, then it’s probably a good idea to wear a mask there, as well. The way I think of it is that if there were someone who was smoking in the crowd and you are close enough to be able to smell their cigarette smoke, then you’re close enough to be able to inhale their coronavirus.

“If there were someone who was smoking in the crowd and you are close enough to be able to smell their cigarette smoke, then you’re close enough to be able to inhale their coronavirus.”

Dr. Joseph Kontra, chief of infectious diseases, Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health

Q: What safety precautions should I take after I get back home from a trip?

A: Some states have requirements when you come back home to them. If you’re traveling internationally there will be some requirements for testing when you return and probably before you left. But in general, if you’ve been very careful and you’ve masked at all times when indoors around anybody who’s in close proximity, then your risk to loved ones when you arrive back home is very small.

With any sort of symptom, you should get tested, and that symptom could just be a stuffy head, mild sore throat, a little bit of a cough — not anything that most people would say, ‘Oh my God, I’ve got COVID,’ but those kinds of minor respiratory symptoms can be COVID-19, especially if you’re vaccinated where the illness may be quite mild. So it’s important to get tested if you have any symptoms.

If you have folks that are immunocompromised at home when you return, then it might not be a bad idea to get tested when you come back, but again, if you’re vaccinated, the risk of picking it up and bringing it home is much less.

Q: What precautions should students moving back to college campuses in the next few weeks take? Can their families help them move in, and what precautions should family members take, as well?

A: All college-age kids are eligible for vaccinations, so again, I sound like a broken record, but step one is get vaccinated, get vaccinated, get vaccinated. Once you’re vaccinated, your risk is much smaller.

Nonetheless, when you’re at college, if you’re going to be in a dorm with say a room with a lot of people in it, then masking if someones unvaccinated in that group of people would be a good idea. As you’re traversing the indoor part of your campus to go to classes, masking is a good idea. If you’re within a classroom, masking is a good idea if you’re not socially distanced at least 3 or 6 feet apart, which I think in a lot of colleges would be hard to do.

So again, just be smart. Whenever you’re indoors, in close proximity to people, wear a mask whether you’re vaccinated or not. That’s the safest thing to do.

And it’s OK for parents to help you move. Obviously, if they’re coming into a crowded setting in a dorm and helping you move in, everyone should be masked then, as well.

Q: Should I bring my vaccine card with me when I travel?

A: It’s not as common in Pennsylvania as it is in other places, but I can tell you, it’s coming. Proprietors want to keep their place of business safe, they want to keep their customers safe, and I think we’ll be seeing more restaurants and gyms and bars say that you have to be vaccinated in order to come in. So you could carry your vaccination card or a photo of it on your phone, and carry a mask, and use those things as you need to.

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