August days are tick-tocking down toward Fall with its school openings and flu season. Now is the supposedly "safe" time to travel--to visit children who live far away and to just plain get away. But is it safe? Some economists have suggested that we older folk should be part of a “targeted lockdown," and stay home since our age puts us in a high risk group for contracting Covid-19.
Some of us are in the no-go age group but our health is otherwise robust. We're physically active and have no life-threatening underlying disease. Does that give us a pass to go forth and travel to see our children? I raise this question now since when I wrote a June post I looked at safety measures we should take if/when we traveled. But the spread of the coronavirus has accelerated since them. So I'm backing up one step and looking at what the experts have to say about evaluating travel risk.
To that point, the Cleveland Clinic has developed a risk calculator to fine tune individual risks. Check it out but with this caveat. Cleveland Clinic doctors say the calculator was designed for healthcare professionals so that they could prioritize who to test. It is not, they say, "for use by individuals who are ‘curious’ about their risk....It is important to caution against consumers interpreting a low risk score as license to ease up on infection prevention measures such as social distancing and masking, as those decisions have public health implications beyond individual risk.”
Okay. Understood. But what about specific travel risks.
Some of us may be prevented from traveling because we live in an area where infection rates are high (above 5 percent) and we are unwelcome in states where the rates are low. If we are from a "safe," low-rate state, it might be an additional risk to visit with relatives from infection-surging states. The latest on how some states are adjusting to incoming travelers is in this article.
If we can make our way around these realities, there are other hazards to evaluate--which is what Paterfamilias and I were forced to do as we planned a trip to see our children. We bought airplane tickets to fly to the city where our son and his family live, made reservations to stay at a nearby hotel for a few days then drive a rental car three hours to another state to see our other child and her family. We haven't been able to hug our children or grandchildren since Thanksgiving. We were feeling hemmed in and in need of a change of scene. We were willing to take some reasonable risks.
Our flight would be only an hour or so. (Driving was not an option.) I was comfortable with the short flight until I read an article interviewing a handful of public health experts, NIH's Doctor Anthony Fauci among them. They were all asked about their personal behaviors. Did they go to supermarkets to shop? Did they wipe down their groceries? The answers varied among the five. But there was one question in which they were all agreed. None of them would set foot on an airplane. Strike one.
Next risk question: Where has everyone we would be visiting been and what have they been doing? As departure day neared I talked to my daughter-in-law about what safety would look like at their home. They live in a part of New York State that has a low infection rate. And yet. "You know the big kids go out," she told me. "They see friends. Plus they're coaches at a soccer camp." My Grands are responsible kids (they're 19 and 17); they wear masks most of the time; they understand how infection works. But they're teenagers! Long story short: My DIL didn't think it would be safe for us to spend any time inside the house. We could sit out in their backyard, splash around in the pool, take walks in the neighborhood and eat meals at their outdoor table. But what if it rains? Or it's beastly hot? Strike two.
Next hurdle: State quarantine issues. The third strike came while we were still weighing and wavering. Governor Andrew Cuomo closed New York State to visitors from 31 high-infection states. Our state of Maryland isn't in terrible shape--we're no California, Florida or Texas--but we were on the list of 31. We would have to quarantine for two weeks upon arrival, and good social practice would demand that we do the same when we got home. One could say, the state is unlikely to police us. On the other hand, the policy is there for a reason. We are reasonable people. Do we have the right or legitimate reason to flaunt the policy? (I watched Governor Cuomo's press briefings everyday as he guided New Yorkers from epicenter of infection to a mere 1 percent infection rate. He listened to the scientists; shouldn't we continue to listen to him?)
All these decisions are personal and full of individual wrinkles and perils. Friends of ours are driving to New Hampshire (Marylanders are permitted to enter) to visit their son. Their grandson is pre-teen and has not been out partying. Their son's house has a separate bedroom on another floor where our friends can stay. The trip sounds safer than ours did.
So this is my rationale about the particulars on why we made the decision we made. It's personal but there is expert-driven guidance out there for help in weighing travel risks. This is one that offers practical advice that touches on a range of travel issues, from the relative hazards of riding trains versus planes to assessing hotel safety. Here's what the CDC advises. It includes a lot of easy-to-follow practical travel tips and a "what to pack" list--i.e. hand sanitizers, masks. Spoiler alert: The CDC would rather you stayed at home.
painting by Monet, "Bridge at Argenteuil" at National Gallery of Art