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As Colleges Welcome Students Back, Will Your Student Be Safe?Suzanne Shaffer
The midpoint of fall semester is here. With school breaks quickly approaching, we're sharing tips and tricks for safe travel practices during COVID-19.
As you help your college student prepare to travel, be sure to double check dates of breaks and exams as many school calendars have shifted this autumn. Be clear about the fact that as soon as they hit the road (or the airport), in order to protect their health as well as yours they need to travel straight home without any detours to visit friends.
There's a lot of conflicting information circulating on this subject. At the end of the day, you can only control your own actions and how you protect yourself.
Whether you or your student decides to drive or fly, here are tips to observe as you go.
Take extra time to research what to expect from different companies. Whether it’s finding an airline that still keeps middle seats open or a hotel that has instituted extra sanitization, it’s important to assess the risks of exposure as you travel.
Check whether or not an airline is blocking middle seats, if they're cleaning the plane before every flight, and whether masks are available for passengers. Information about COVID cleaning and safety protocols as well as updated policies around changing/canceling flights should be easy to find on the airline website (here's an example from Southwest Airlines).
Almost every U.S. airline requires masks, but some permit face shields as well which health officials state are less effective when used on their own than a properly fitted mask.
Some airlines offer sanitizing wipes for you to use on your seat and tray table, as well as making hand sanitizer dispensers available throughout your time in the airports and on the flight. It's still a good idea to bring your own in case the airlines or airports run out or you find yourself needing more than what is provided.
For a detailed look into the safety precautions of different U.S. airlines, here's a breakdown which is updated periodically.
Like airlines and airports, hotel chains have adopted rules about social distancing and face coverings in public areas and some are spotlighting enhanced safety and disinfecting measures (like the Hilton family of hotels' CleanStay program).
Breakfast buffets are on hold. The biggest risk will occur in highly trafficked areas such as lobbies and elevators. Frequently touched surfaces or areas that do not allow for social distancing should be avoided, which may drastically change what you look for in a hotel.
Experts have argued that motels or private rentals such as Airbnbs pose less of a risk purely because it’s less likely you’ll find yourself in close proximity with strangers. Staying on the ground floor or in a room with doors that lead directly outside will limit the need for elevators or other small enclosed spaces.
A few other ways to minimize risk in a hotel:
If you or someone in your household has been exposed to coronavirus, or if you want or need to be tested after traveling, it's ideal to wait 5–7 days after potential exposure before getting tested to reduce the likelihood of receiving a false negative result.
Some states require visitors from other states with high incidences of COVID-19 to quarantine after arrival or until the visitor can provide a negative COVID test result. Travel advisories should be available on the official state website.
Before you travel, research where you can get a test after arrival and make an appointment. Tests are available at urgent care centers and pharmacies (such as CVS), but in many places there will be limited slots so do plan in advance. While you wait to be tested after reaching your destination, isolate if you can, wear a mask and wash your hands frequently.
With a rapid saliva test, you will typically receive results within the hour. A deep nasal swab PCR test, which is more accurate, will take a couple of days.
The good news — COVID testing is a huge medical research priority right now so we can expect tests to continue to get easier, faster and better.
If you hope to visit with high risk individuals after traveling this holiday season, it's best to be as prepared as possible. Take thorough precautions including getting tested, wearing a face covering at all times and avoiding sharing items.
It may also be a good idea to spend time together outside, if weather permits, or allow for proper airflow when indoors to further minimize the risk. Pay special attention if you know you’ve traveled through areas of high risk, but also be aware that there are no guarantees even if you think your area has been low risk.
Family time has been scarce recently as we strive to keep our loved ones safe, but it’s also so important to spend time with our relatives — especially the older generation — while we can. Taking necessary measures to minimize exposure and being vigilant about hand washing, masks and social distancing will enable us to enjoy much needed family time while keeping each other safe.