Though the number of air travelers topped one million on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, many Americans opted not to travel for the holiday. (The equivalent number a year ago, 2019’s biggest travel day, was more than 2.8 million). But even as coronavirus cases continue to surge, the winter holidays and breaks from school may have more people contemplating taking some time away from home in the coming weeks.
Making that choice could require you to quarantine both before you leave and once you get back (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently updated its quarantine guidance, suggesting a seven-day quarantine followed by a negative test or a 10-day quarantine without testing if a person does not develop symptoms).
If you’re contemplating a trip, here’s what to think about before you leave.
Check your state’s travel restrictions.
State travel regulations aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus are changing by the day.
As of Dec. 4, California is encouraging domestic travelers arriving in the state to quarantine for two weeks. Massachusetts is requiring residents returning from almost every state to complete a form before arrival and quarantine for two weeks afterward. Those who arrive with a negative result from a Covid-19 test administered up to 72 hours before entering the state can forgo quarantine. Travelers who fail to comply may face a $500 fine per day.
New York requires a 14-day quarantine for those who leave the state for more than 24 hours and are returning from states and territories that are not contiguous with New York or from certain high-risk countries. Travelers can “test out” of the quarantine if they receive a negative test result within three days before their return, quarantine for three days upon arrival plus take another test on the fourth day that comes back negative.
Even if your state doesn’t have such requirements, Dr. Lin Chen, the president of the International Society of Travel Medicine and the travel clinic director at Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, Mass., said it’s safest to take tests before and after a trip. If you’re flying, you may get infected in transit. Plus, about 40 percent of people who test positive for the virus may never show symptoms, Dr. Chen said, and tests aren’t always reliable.
“I would still want everybody to be careful and take all the precautions,” she added. “It doesn’t mean that with a negative test, one should take off the mask.”CORONAVIRUS BRIEFING: An informed guide to the global outbreak, with the latest developments and expert advice.Sign Up
If you will have to take a test upon returning from your trip, the Department of Health and Human Services website has a list of testing sites in each state.
Find out your employer’s requirements.
Employers can take certain precautions to keep their workplaces safe during the pandemic. If you have been working in a shared workplace and are traveling, ask your company what is expected of you upon returning. (Some companies may even ask their employees not to travel at all if it isn’t essential.)
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, an employer may ask its employees to stay home until it’s clear they don’t have the coronavirus if they have traveled to certain locations flagged by the C.D.C. or local health officials. New Hampshire, for instance, encourages employers to ask employees if they have made any nonessential trips outside of the state and a few surrounding states. Employees who have must quarantine at home for two weeks before returning to work. They can cut that period short if, on their seventh day back, they are asymptomatic and take a test that comes back negative.
Ask your employer if post-travel quarantine would fall under paid sick leave. You may be eligible for it under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, an emergency measure passed in March by the federal government. But the act covers only two weeks of paid sick leave to eligible employees, and it may be of better use in the event that you contract the virus. Thirteen states and Washington, D.C., have laws that require paid sick leave for eligible employees, but you should research whether quarantine qualifies for paid leave under those specific laws.
If you have to return to work immediately after your trip and don’t have the option of telecommuting, you may want to consider canceling your plans. Similarly, if your children have been attending school in person, check if they will be allowed back in the classroom if you travel.
Secure essentials …
If you will have to quarantine for two weeks after your trip, stock up on groceries, hygiene products and other essentials before traveling (and be aware that some retailers are putting limits on items that proved hard to get during the early days of the pandemic, like toilet paper and paper towels). It never hurts to have plenty of shelf staples in your kitchen. If you can secure an advance delivery time, set up deliveries with online services like Instacart, Shipt or AmazonFresh to have groceries delivered from local stores upon your return. Or use food delivery apps like Grubhub, DoorDash and Uber Eats, which are available in hundreds of cities.
… and entertainment.
Think of how you’re going to unwind and fight off cabin fever. Plenty of classic holiday movies, including “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Elf,” are available to stream online.
While the internet offers no shortage of shows, movies, TikTok videos and the like, you may want to have analog distractions to get a break from screens. Order a few books online that can greet you at your doorstep when you return. Buy puzzles to solve with your whole family. Children may enjoy creating holiday-themed arts and crafts projects — order kits ahead of time. And board games like Risk and Dungeons & Dragons can keep you busy for hours.
During the pandemic, Kristin Addis, the chief executive of Be My Travel Muse, a company that helps women travel solo, has quarantined at home in Nevada a few times after visiting French Polynesia, Mexico and Aruba. She passed the time by practicing yoga and Pilates and video chatting with friends and family. “I kind of do the things that I did during lockdown to stay sane,” she said.
Have a contingency plan.
Know what to do in case you contract the virus during your trip. Will you be able to extend your Airbnb or hotel and reschedule any transportation that involves being with other people? If you’re sharing a household with others and fall ill, self-isolate in one room and have someone leave your meals and other essentials outside your door. If you have the option, designate one bathroom to yourself.
If you don’t have enough room to self isolate during the entire quarantine period, the C.D.C. recommends separating from others as much as possible. Always maintain six feet of distance, disinfect shared surfaces, such as kitchen counters and bathroom sinks, and open the windows to circulate fresh air. If you have to share a bedroom with someone else, the C.D.C. suggests placing a divider such as a shower curtain or quilt between you and the other person, and sleeping in inverse directions. Caregivers should also quarantine for two weeks after the ill person ends self-isolation.