As the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to spread around the world, travelers rightfully have a lot of questions about future vacation plans and how to prepare. The respiratory illness, which originated in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, in late 2019, has spread to at least 67 countries, infecting approximately 90,000 people. But according to the California Department of Public Health, as of March 1 there are only 40 positive cases in California and the health risk to the general public is low.
Although risks are low at this time, the situation is still evolving and it would be wise to seek out the most up-to-date information prior to traveling. Check the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Controland Prevetion, and the California Department of Public Healthfor the most timely and accurate updates on COVID-19. Follow the New York Times’ongoing coverage, which includes stories about how to prepareand what to do about upcoming family travel. You’ll also find helpful precautionary advice via WebMDand the U.S. Travel Association.
These basic steps will help reduce your chances for contracting the virus so you can keep your travel plans intact.
1. Ramp up your handwashing techniques.
Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds (the equivalent of singing “Happy Birthday” twice through), multiple times a day, suggests the CDC. Use soap and water or a hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol and dry them with a clean towel or air dry. You should do so after using the bathroom, of course, but also after touching animals, garbage, or public surfaces.
2. Avoid touching your face.
Easier said than done, but the CDC saysnot to touch your eyes, nose, and mouth without washing your hands thoroughly first. This is especially important before putting in contacts, applying makeup, or washing your face.
3. Keep your distance.
Stay at least six feet away from anyone who is coughing in a public place and try to generally avoid contact when possible. Traveling to a networking event or meeting new people on vacation? The New York Timessuggests greeting others with an “Ebola handshake” (aka an elbow bump) instead of a hug or normal handshake and using your knuckle instead of your finger to push any public buttons (as in an elevator or at a gas station).
4. Disinfect surfaces around you.
Although the virus is most commonly transmitted through tiny respiratory droplets in the air, it’s still a good idea to wipe down “high-touch surfaces,” according to the CDC, like phones and counters. On a plane, bring disinfectant wipes to clean off contact points like your tray table, armrest, seatbelt, seat-back pocket, headrest, entertainment screen, and window shade.
5. Follow typical flu-prevention tactics.
Take the same precautions that you would during a “normal” season and get a flu shot, suggests the New York Times. While the vaccine can’t protect you against COVID-19 directly, experts say that it can prevent against the more severe effects of getting both diseases at once, which could lead to pneumonia.
6. Skip the mask unless you’re already sick.
The CDC does not recommend face masks for healthy individuals. Most are too loose to protect you from inhaling the virus, plus demand has been so high worldwide that there’s potential for a shortage for the people who need them most: health care professionals. However, if you are sick or taking care of a sick person, a maskisrecommended. And if you’re about to sneeze or cough in public without a mask, “direct it into your elbow so as to avoid leaving germs on your hands, which can then quickly spread to other surfaces,” says the New York Times.
7. Pay attention to symptoms.
Fever, coughing, and shortness of breath are the three main coronavirus symptoms listed by the CDC, which are also similar to the flu. Seek medical help early and do not travel if you have a fever. “Most important: Do not panic,” says The New York Times. “While the outbreak is a serious public health concern, the majority of those who contract the coronavirus do not become seriously ill, and only a small percentage require intensive care.”