As we head into the flu season coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic, we know you have questions about flying. Emergency room (ER) physician, Dr. Shelise Edwards cuts through the noise and gives you the information you need to make the right decision and keep your family safe.
Written by Dr. Shelise Edwards, MD.
Question: Does traveling to visit family or friends increase my chances of getting and spreading COVID-19”?
Answer: Yes, travel definitely increases your chances of getting and spreading COVID-19.
There is always a risk of contracting COVID and several other infectious diseases when interacting with anyone, however, the goal is to minimize the risk of becoming infected.
Measures such as everyone wearing face masks appropriately (covering both mouth and nose), social distancing and frequent handwashing will significantly limit your risk of contracting COVID.
Question: So, what should I consider when deciding to travel via air or ground during the pandemic”?
Answer: Perform research to determine if COVID is spreading in your local area or your final destination.
If you are traveling to visit family or friends, consider if you or your loved ones are more likely to become extremely ill if you all do contract the virus.
Individuals considered to be at higher risk of developing complications from COVID include but are not limited to those that are elderly, have chronic medical conditions such as heart disease, lung disease or diabetes, those with cancer, marked obesity, smokers and weak immune systems.
Travelers with increased risk of getting extremely ill from COVID should seriously consider eliminating both essential and non-essential travel to regions with high COVID infection rates.
See also: Maximizing Wellness During a Pandemic.
Question: Is it safe to travel by air during COVID-19?
Answer: Traveling by air definitely puts one at higher risk for contracting and spreading viruses (including COVID-19) and other germs, especially if you travel during high peak travel times. The reason being, you may be required to wait in security lines and at airport gates for a prolonged period of time, which would undoubtedly put you in closer contact with non-household members.
You are also more likely to come in contact with multiple surfaces that have been touched by a number of individuals and not sanitized. The good news is, most viruses do not easily spread on airplanes because the air is filtered and well circulated.
Unfortunately, there is a catch, social distancing is nearly impossible on a full flight. Some airlines have taken the steps of limiting flight capacity as well as leaving middle seats vacant. But, even with these limitations, you will likely be seated less than 6 feet from other passengers, sometimes for several hours.
Masks are now required on most domestic flights but keep in mind, individuals may remove their mask while eating and drinking.
Question: What about international travel?
Answer: Please do your due diligence and research restrictions for international travel before booking your flight. Determine if your intended destination requires a negative COVID test to enter the country.
If you are required to have a negative COVID test, determine which test is required (antigen or PCR) and when it must be performed in relation to your travel date. Find out if you must quarantine upon entering your international destination, and if so, for how long.
Dr. Shelise Edwards, MD, is a board-certified emergency medicine physician with SignatureCare Emergency Center. She currently serves as the Regional Medical Director for the Houston region. Originally from Tallahassee, FL, she completed her medical school training at Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, and her emergency medicine residency training at The University of Chicago in 2005. She worked as an attending physician in Atlanta as well as Chicago, before relocating to Houston in 2011. Dr. Edwards enjoys spending time with her husband and 2 kids relaxing at home, watching movies, and traveling.