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Is it safe to travel? Avoid it if you can, doctors say

As coronavirus cases surge, doctors are underlining the message that sticking close to home is the best way for individuals to help slow its spread.

“To ‘flatten the curve’ people should be staying home, practicing social-distancing and avoiding all nonessential travel,” said Dr. Geoffrey Gottlieb, who specializes in infectious diseases at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle.

Staying at least six feet away from people you’re not in isolation with is a key to social distancing.

Follow the travel advice of your local public health department and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Gottlieb said, keeping in mind that the situation is changing rapidly.

Leisure travel is not a good idea right now.

“If you’re going for vacation, I would suggest you don’t go,” says Danielle Ompad, an associate professor at New York University’s School of Global Public Health. “I definitely don’t suggest you visit sick or elderly family.”

Evolving travel restrictions may complicate returning home

Traval bans, border closures, mandatory quarantines and flight cancellations have been implemented across the globe, with more restrictions very likely.

“These can be unpredictable and implemented during travel, so US travelers face a high risk of travel disruption, and might even have difficulty returning home,” said Dr. Henry Wu, assistant professor and senior physician at the Emory University School of Medicine and director of the Emory TravelWell Center in Atlanta.

The US State Department on March 19 raised its global travel warning to the highest level — Level 4: Do Not Travel, advising citizens to avoid all international travel.

“Travelers should heed the warning and not travel internationally, or they may face significant difficulties,” Wu said.

Is it safe to fly domestically?

Airlines, rail and transit systems have stepped up sanitation efforts, but the best bet to stem coronavirus’ spread is to stay home.

“In the absence of containment of Covid-19 in the US, the best way for Americans to protect themselves and limit the spread of Covid-19 is to avoid unnecessary travel outside the home and avoid large gatherings,” Wu said

If you must travel by air or rail, Wu encourages taking the standard precautions: Thoroughly and frequently wash your hands, avoid touching your face, cough and sneeze into a tissue or your elbow, don’t travel while ill and practice social distancing “to the extent possible.”

Covid-19 has been reported in every US state and across many countries, but Wu noted that many areas are less affected than others, and limiting unnecessary travel will limit the spread to those areas.

Retreating to remote areas is tempting as the virus spreads, but medical facilities could also easily be overwhelmed if cases spike there. Since symptoms don’t immediately appear, you could be bringing the illness with you.

Is it safe to drive somewhere for a well-spaced-out activity?

Wu said that “certainly some outdoor activities are inherently consistent with social distancing rules.”

But other factors also need to be considered, he said.

“For example, risk of injuries that would result in a need to seek healthcare in an increasingly overwhelmed health system, whether the trip results in visits to restaurants or public facilities that would otherwise be unnecessary, or simply setting a bad example of doing road trips when we are advised to stay home,” Wu said.

He encourages people to use their best judgment in following the advice of health officials and governments.

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