coronavirus

Labor Day Travel Is Dangerous Right Now. Here Are 4 Ways to Do It Safely, Experts Say

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You might want to rethink your Labor Day weekend plans — whether you're vaccinated or not.

The country's level of Covid-19 transmission is currently so high that even fully vaccinated people need to mask up and seriously consider the safety risks of traveling, said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at a White House briefing Tuesday. If you're unvaccinated, traveling is not recommended at all.

When you travel, you encounter more people over the course of your journey than you would on a given day at home, explains Rachel Graham, assistant professor in the epidemiology department at the Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Right now, any Covid transmission is a problem, whether you experience symptoms or not, because it fuels the "continued dissemination of the Delta variant," she says.

That means your long-awaited family reunion or long weekend at the beach could be potentially dangerous, even for the 53% of the U.S. population who are fully vaccinated for Covid.

If you're fully vaccinated and still eager to get away, here's how to do it safely, according to experts:

Figure out your whole group's risk

If you're traveling with a group of people, take everyone's individual risk into account — from your immunocompromised elderly relatives to your nieces and nephews who are in school.

Everyone's risk is different, and nobody is totally in the clear. For example, a multi-generational group including young children ineligible to get the Covid vaccine would need to exercise more caution than a group of adults who are fully vaccinated. If everyone in your travel party is fully vaccinated, your risk of getting a severe illness is significantly lower, "but your risks of transmission are still kind of up there," Graham says.

Most vaccinated folks who catch the delta variant in a "breakthrough infection" only experience mild symptoms, but they can still transmit the virus to others, including people at high risk of severe illness. "So, you have to take that risk into consideration," she says. In some situations, the safest decision might be to stay home and not travel at all.

Get on the same page about masking

The CDC's guidelines state that even fully vaccinated people must wear masks during travel on public transportation and while indoors in airports and other transportation hubs.

But once you arrive at your destination, be aware that local mask protocols can vary greatly. Research your destination's transmission and vaccination rates, as well as any mask mandates and safety guidelines in place, Graham says. And when in doubt, mask up.

"I would urge people to err on the side of caution as far as masking when you're indoors," Graham says, especially around large groups. "The more people you're around, the less sure you can be about whether or not everyone's going to be safe," she says.

If you're traveling with children, model good masking behavior so they're encouraged to follow suit, advises Dr. Tara Vijayan, assistant professor of medicine in the infectious diseases division and medical director of antimicrobial stewardship at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

"It's harder, perhaps, when you're in a community that doesn't always want to mask. That may be a harder sell," she says, making it even more important to lead by example.

Choose only low-risk activities

Once you arrive at your destination, choosing safer activities can dial down your risk of Covid transmission.

Opting for outdoor activities that allow you to spread out, like hiking or going to an uncrowded beach, is smart. So is choosing to eat or drink at outdoor restaurants and bars. Mask up for crowded outdoor activities, like watching a parade or going to a concert, where it's tough to maintain social distance from others.

If you're hosting a Labor Day gathering, move the main attraction outdoors. Consider making it a backyard cookout or picnic, rather than an indoor dinner party. You can ask that guests wear masks when they're inside your home, especially if you're unsure about their vaccination status. The CDC recommends that even vaccinated people wear masks indoors in areas with high levels of Covid transmission.

The riskiest transmission scenario involves doing anything indoors with a large group without a mask, Vijayan says. Hitting up Labor Day sales at an indoor shopping center or sharing a movie theater with any unmasked moviegoers could be a recipe for disaster.

Get tested before you leave

The CDC says fully vaccinated people don't need to get a Covid test before traveling. But it's reasonable to seek out a test one to three days ahead of a trip, just so you have a clearer idea of your own status, Graham says.

"For personal responsibility, I would get tested before I would travel, just so that I would know ahead of time that — at least at the time that I was tested — I was not carrying a detectable amount of virus," she says.

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