Tips for Travel in the Time of COVID-19

by Mark Wilcox, University Marketing and Communications

Michigan Tech’s Fall Break starts today (Oct. 15) with classes and activities suspended until Monday (Oct. 19). Some students and staff are taking advantage of the break to return home to reconnect with family and friends, while many will stay close to campus practicing physical distancing and other behaviors to protect themselves from COVID-19.

Traveling during the pandemic is a topic most of us have thought about, from this “mini-vacation,” to the much longer upcoming holiday breaks. Traveling in and of itself is really not the issue, according to epidemiologist Kelly Kamm (KIP) — the behavior we practice while traveling is. “The rules have certainly changed,” said Kamm. “We have to have a mindset that we are at risk by who we come into contact with and, conversely, we could be putting those who come into contact with us at risk.”

Kamm said in some ways the script has flipped from when students returned to campus several weeks ago. “When the semester started we had very little positive cases and many people coming into the area were coming from hot spots, locations with much higher rates,” she said. “Now things have slowed down elsewhere and we are now the hot spot, and we certainly don’t want to spread the coronavirus.” She notes that while the number of positive cases on campus remains low, numbers remain high in the larger community.

“It’s a good idea for travelers to learn about the levels of transmission at their destination. That information should be included in the process of deciding whether or not to travel,” Kamm added.

Kamm said if there is one cardinal rule, it is not to travel if you are in quarantine or isolation under the guidance of the Western Upper Peninsula Health Department (WUPHD). This is especially important when it comes to contact tracing and other factors. “If you leave the area, you enter the jurisdiction of another health department,” she said. “If you should become sick, contact tracing becomes much more complicated, as it entails communication between two or more health departments.” Kamm said it is also imperative to stay where you are if you get sick during the break.  

She notes that it’s important to realize the disease can strike quite suddenly, which has to be taken into account when making travel plans. “If you are riding with someone, you have to consider what will happen if they get sick,” she said. “Not only are you left without a ride, but you may have to remain where you are if you are required to quarantine or isolate.”

While traveling, it is important to take your safe health practices with you. “Consider bringing food with you rather than eating out,” Kamm advised. “Be aware of sanitary conditions when stopping on the road — and of course, wear a face covering at all times, use hand sanitizer and wash your hands often.” 

Once you’ve arrived, other rules should be followed. “Don’t go to see people who are considered at high risk,” said Kamm. This includes older individuals, those with chronic diseases such as diabetes, and those with compromised immune systems. 

There are also some commonsense practices to keep in mind. If you want to have a drink or a cup of coffee with a friend, carefully consider the location. “No matter where you go, there is the danger of community transmission,” Kamm said. “Rather than meeting in a bar or coffee shop, choose a safe location where distancing can be practiced.”

Kamm said we should adopt the mindset that we could already have the virus, and those we come into contact with may have it as well. “It’s important to remember that someone else’s heath affects your life, just as your health affects someone else,” she stated.

Kamm advised that many of these practices need to be part of our lives whether we travel or not. “This is not going away anytime soon,” she said. “Human interaction is not only possible, it is essential. But we have to do it safely.”

More information on COVID-19 can be found at the WUPHD website.