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Should I Worry About Using a Public Bathroom During COVID-19?

Is it safe to use a public bathroom right now? We answer this question, plus others on Thanksgiving travel, trip cancellations, and more in this month’s edition of our travel advice column.

Q. “I’m taking a road trip soon. Should I worry about using a public bathroom during COVID-19?” – TC

A. Public bathrooms can be questionable at the best of times, but they’re an unavoidable part of life outside your house. To find out how much you really need to worry, I consulted Dr. Le, an infectious disease specialist at Cedars-Sinai. “Public restrooms expose an individual to the same level of risk as other indoor gatherings,” according to Dr. Le.  This “means your time spent in them should be brief and only as necessary. Individuals should avoid crowding in public restrooms and maintain physically distancing.”

The good news, says Dr. Le, is that “there is less and less research indicating the risk of transmission of COVID-19 can be spread on hard surfaces. However, some research does support the viral shedding of COVID-19 in stool. I recommend using the general common sense one would use outside of a pandemic – if an area is actively soiled, avoid contact.”

So, if a public bathroom is too crowded or looks dirty, find another one (if possible). Always wash your hands thoroughly after using the restroom, and avoid touching the door handles on the way out.

Q. “What should I expect from travel during Thanksgiving week”? – MO

A. It looks like some Americans are following the CDC’s recommendation to stay home this Thanksgiving. AAA is predicting a 10 percent drop in Thanksgiving travel this year, and the vast majority of those who do travel will be driving. AAA projects that car travel will account for 95 percent of all holiday travel this year, so there will likely still be traffic during the most popular times to travel (generally the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the Sunday after).

Wednesday and Sunday will be the busiest days to fly this year as well, although airports will be significantly less crowded than in a normal year.

Q. “We’re planning a trip to the Canary Islands for May 2021 but we’re told American Airlines and others may not be offering flights from New York/New Jersey. Can you give me an update on flights?” – LG

A. I reached out to American Airlines who confirmed that they will not be offering flights to the Canary Islands next year. You’d likely have to take a route with multiple connections to get there. Although I hope this will change by May 2021, keep in mind that the Canary Islands are currently only admitting travelers from a limited list of countries (that does not include the U.S.).

Q. “How safe are flights actually right now?” – TD

A. That depends on who you ask. According to one study, flying is safer than going to the grocery store. However, real life infection-tracing has showed that outbreaks can happen on flights. Don’t forget that the risk factor of flying involves more than just the flight itself—your journey will involve traveling to and from the airport, the airport, and your lodging at the destination. 

Q. “What are some winter-friendly and COVID-friendly destinations?” – MO

A. Even a domestic road trip to a new state can involve quarantining or testing requirements. If you’re determined to get out of town, Brazil, Colombia, The Dominican Republic, Mexico, and Tanzania are all warm-weather winter destinations that are currently allowing American citizens to enter without quarantining or testing restrictions. However, you should know that the State Department currently lists all of these destinations under Level 3 (reconsider travel) or Level 4 (do not travel) travel advisories.

Q. “How can I find non-touristy destinations in new cities?” – TD

A. I like to search Instagram for accounts that are local to the destination that I’m traveling to, and find someone I like who posts content targeted at a local audience. This helps me discover cool restaurants and non-touristy sites that I might not find in a travel-focused guide to the city. Likewise, searching hashtags (like #bostonfoodie) can unearth some fun finds.

Q. “I am in the United States and need to travel to South Africa to help a family member. I don’t know how long I will have to stay. Would I be able to book a flight with no return date?” – CB

A. Open-ended air tickets aren’t readily available these days, and you’ll also need to show proof of a return ticket upon arrival in South Africa in order to get your tourist visa. Your best bet is to book a ticket with a flexible change or cancellation policy (which are much more common these days) so that you can adjust your return date as needed.

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