[Rick Seaney is the CEO and cofounder of FareCompare, and columnist for Investopedia. The views expressed by columnists are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Investopedia.]
Have you seen the statistics from the Centers for Disease Control? It is estimated that viruses have sickened at least 29 million in the U.S. so far and killed at least 16 thousand. No, this is not about Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19); these are figures for the 2019-2020 flu season.
This is not meant to belittle the seriousness of the current coronavirus situation, only to provide a bit of perspective. Yes, coronavirus can be deadly; more than 2,800 have died so far, and the total number sickened has topped 80,000. It appears to be getting worse with outbreaks popping up from South Korea to Italy. It almost seems churlish to mention travel getaways at such a time but, face it, vacations are cherished breaks that hard-working folks are loathe to surrender.
And many may not have to, as long as they—all of us, really—gather as many facts about this ongoing situation as possible. Knowledge helps keep a lid on fear, too. As with most things in life, the more you know, the better off you are. So let the education begin.
- Coronavirus: More than 80,000 sickened worldwide, so far.
- CDC’s section on the virus now includes recommendations for travelers.
- U.S. State Department travel section is continually updating Travel Alerts.
- Top ways to protect yourself: Wash your hands often. If sick, stay home.
- Information changes quickly; confirm the latest in links below.
Check With Expert Resources
Here are just a few.
Centers for Disease Control
The CDC is an excellent online resource for coronavirus. Information includes everything from news of the latest outbreaks to a description of the symptoms (“fever, cough, shortness of breath).” There is also a special section for travelers that lists countries where one should avoid “non-essential travel” (China and South Korea), and countries where “older adults and those with chronic medical conditions should consider postponing nonessential travel “(Iran, Italy, Japan). These pages are worth reading even if you have no intention of traveling; find them at CDC.gov.
U.S. State Department travel section:
The Department of State currently advises all U.S. citizens to avoid all international travel due to COVID-19. U.S. citizens who live in the United States should arrange for immediate return to the United States, unless they are prepared to remain abroad for an indefinite period.
If you were thinking of going abroad, head to Travel.State.Gov and type in your destination to see what’s up in that country. In addition to alerts ranging from 1 (“exercise normal precautions”) to 4 (“do not travel”), selected country-information sections, such as the one for Japan, now include COVID-19 updates. In addition, the website has a special section on the topic.
Your healthcare professional:
Check with your doctor; they will likely be able to allay some fears (maybe even warn you about things to watch out for). Besides, with the potential health risks out there, getting a physical before traveling sure couldn’t hurt.
Follow These Recommendations
1. If you are sick, stay home. That means, don’t go to work and do not travel. During past pandemics, some airlines would look passengers over carefully and refuse boarding to anyone who appeared to be ill.
2. Wash your hands often. And not just a quick rinse under a faucet; according to the CDC, you have to use soap and running water and keep it up for at least 20 seconds.
3. Use hand sanitizer. These wipes can be great on a plane; use them to clean tray tables, armrests, lavatory handles, whatever you think you’ll touch.
4. Do you need to wear a mask? The World Health Organization (WHO) has an entire section on its website devoted to this question, including charts and videos about different masks and how to use and dispose of them.
It states, “If you are healthy, you only need to wear a mask if you are taking care of a person with suspected 2019-nCoV infection.” It goes on to say, “Masks are effective only when used in combination with frequent hand-cleaning with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.” When in doubt, talk to your doctor and always keep up with information provided by local and federal public health authorities.
5. Don’t go to any country or city that officials declare off-limits. Again, check with Travel.State.Gov.
Stay in Contact With the Airline
You bought your tickets, got a great deal and everything’s a go. Or is it? Be sure the airline has your phone and email so it can contact you if anything changes. Be aware of situations when the carrier may have to cancel or change flights, as this could mean waived change fees for you or even a refund.
Think About Travel Insurance
Travel insurance could be a lifesaver; it could also be throwing your money away. The best thing to do is read any insurance plan thoroughly (especially the fine print), then get on the phone to ask the insurer more questions. If you can’t reach anyone by phone or they blow you off (“Don’t worry about a thing”), look for another policy.
Only you can make the decision to travel. But again, the more you know, the smarter decision you’ll make. At the moment, we don’t know what’s going to happen with COVID-19. All we can do is take care of ourselves—wherever we are—and stay informed.