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How Will You Know When It’s Safe to Travel Again?

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Many avid travelers may be wondering when we can start traveling again. While we don’t have a definitive answer just yet, some places are inching closer to reopening the skies and roads. The decision ultimately comes down to when medical experts say we have sufficiently succeeded in flattening the curve, and when businesses and local governments think it’s safe to start opening back up for business. Even though hotels and airlines are stepping up to help during the pandemic, travel is likely to resume gradually once travel advisories expire and airlines slowly reintroduce flight routes. 

Some places may open sooner than others, depending on the country, state, or even the community. While there are some things frequent travelers can do now, such as staying on top of expiring airline miles, knowing when we can safely travel again is a bit of a waiting game.

Here are some of the things you can expect will need to happen before travel can be a possibility.

Fewer Reported Cases

The world has changed considerably since the last global pandemic, which was from 1918 to 1920. Back then, you took a boat or train to travel. Thanks to air travel, we can go almost anywhere in a matter of hours. As convenient as it may be, faster travel also makes it easier for illnesses to spread quickly. As a result, governments are being extra cautious about reopening travel too soon.

The baseline to ease current travel restrictions may be the number of cases tallied by the World Health Organization (WHO), which releases daily situation reports. These reports include countries’ newly reported cases, deaths, and each country’s number of days since the last reported case.

Each daily situation report puts case numbers into an epidemic curve chart. This chart is also color-coded so you can track case numbers by region. The WHO reported 81,572 newly confirmed cases on their April 19, 2020, report. In comparison, only 16,556 confirmed cases were reported a month earlier on the March 19, 2020 report. 

Aggressive Testing Can More Accurately Flatten The Curve

More nations are ramping up access to testing while the U.S. Centers for Disease Control release daily testing updates and infection spread forecasts.

Testing as many people as possible makes it possible to more accurately calculate the actual infection rate and predict future spread rates. The number of confirmed cases may increase as more people take tests. However, the more testing there is, the more likely it is we can contain cases, and that the infection curve overall will eventually decline.

Johns Hopkins University tracks the number of daily cases by country. The number of new cases is currently decreasing in some nations, including Germany and China. However, most places have yet to experience a consistent downward trend. Carnegie Mellon recently launched a symptom tracker map in partnership with Facebook: The tool displays the estimated percentage of people with COVID-19 symptoms in a geographic area.

Consistent testing and prolific symptom reporting, even after the curve flattens, can help leaders begin to forge travel policies and avoid a second peak in cases as nations reopen.

Travel Guidance for the Foreseeable Future

It’s still technically possible (although not recommended) to travel in the United States, and, in some emergency cases, internationally. However, adjusting back to our prior travel habits will be a very gradual process. These preventative measures are likely to stay for the foreseeable future:

  • Social distancing of at least six feet 
  • Wearing a mask in public
  • Extensive cleaning of airplane cabins and public areas

Other prevention measures will also likely go into effect to reduce the spread. Policies and habits may change as we learn more about how coronavirus spreads and mutates, and some already have. For instance, TSA changed its policies earlier this year, allowing passengers to bring up to 12 ounces of hand sanitizer in their carry-on luggage (instead of the 3.4-ounce limit). 

We’ll also learn how to be receptive to the most effective prevention and treatment measures. Travel authorities may implement these measures to reduce the risk of the spread of the virus.

Temperature Checks

Airlines could begin to regularly check the temperatures of customers before allowing them to board the aircraft. Stores and other public places may instill a similar practice, and you may not be able to board if your temperature is above a certain level. If you’re flying internationally, customs agents may begin to check temperatures too. (But, this of course won’t help much if individuals are asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic.)

CDC guidelines for airline crews already require staff to report potentially ill flyers before an aircraft lands in its destination. Possible reasons may include having a measured fever above 100 degrees or simply exhibiting feverish symptoms, and/or a dry cough or difficulty breathing.

Monitoring body temperatures could prevent some ill travelers from flying. However, the World Health Organization states this preventative measure alone isn’t enough; again, passengers may not yet be exhibiting symptoms, or they may be asymptomatic. 

Mandatory Self-Quarantines

Countries may continue to require a minimum 14-day self-quarantine for all arrivals. If traveling abroad you may need to disclose your travel plans and where you’re staying/quarantining upon arrival. Quarantine rules vary by nation, and typically apply whether you’re a resident or visitor. Governments across the globe may enact broad travel restrictions and not allow travelers from highly-affected areas to enter their country. 

Some U.S. states already require a mandatory quarantine for all incoming visitors: Hawaii’s 14-day self-quarantine is one such example. 

Contact Tracing

Another preventative measure nations are rolling out is contact tracing. Smartphone apps can alert you if you come into contact with an infected or at-risk person. If you test positive, your phone app can automatically notify others you came into close contact with for the last 14 days. Contract tracing apps make it easy for travel providers to know their passengers’ recent social patterns, and if you’ve been in contact with someone who later tested positive for COVID-19. 

Immunity Passports?

Authorities have suggested the idea of an immunity passport to travel between countries, but it remains unclear whether or not those who have had the virus become immune—and for how long. Much focus is on the development of a COVID-19 vaccine. However, an effective and safe vaccine takes at least 12 to 18 months to develop and test in clinical trials. Although still in the early stages, antibody testing has also been suggested as a method of “reopening” the country, though it’s still too early in immunity research to tell.

Travel post-COVID-19 may not be the same as pre-COVID-19, at least for a while. Achieving worldwide immunity can take years, and could be the ultimate measure before many believe it’s safe to travel again.

Bottom Line

Much uncertainty remains, and we’ll need to continue to modify our daily habits until the infection risk dissipates and some types of travel are again permitted. Only aggressive testing and other preventative measures can restore a confidence to travel again.

Until then, cooking an international dish or streaming a virtual tour can help to quell our travel hunger, and to look forward to when it’ll be again safe to make new memories around the globe.

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