Our plan to reduce our risk of infection while traveling during the COVID pandemic

Maybe you’re in a major city and decided to head out; maybe you’re overseas and your visa ran out; or maybe you’re traveling to see a loved one in an emergency situation. Whatever it is, you’ve calculated your risk and decided that going is better than staying. Now, how do you do that safely?

My family faced is now facing this exact situation, as we our vis is about to expire, most likely requiring us to return to the US. We face the prospect of 45+ hours traveling, by taxi, bus, train, and three separate airplanes, putting us in shared space with tens of thousands of people, any of whom could have COVID-19. I spent several days learning from experts and doctors so that I can keep my family safe and want to share my plan with you in case you also need to travel and to welcome your feedback of how we can be better prepared!

To put this advice in context, first just observe how airport staff are attired for their own protection:

Now consider that if you’re traveling by plane, you’ll be in the exact same environment as the staff. Their length of exposure risk may be higher depending on crowd density and duration of their shift v. your travel time, but you face the same risk of exposure from the same people that they do. It thus behooves you to travel very carefully to reduce your risk of exposure. Here’s 11 ways we plan to to reduce our risk of exposure to COVID-19 while traveling:

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  1. Wash hands often. Everyone hopefully knows this by now, but it’s the most important thing you can do to reduce your risk of infection. When we can’t wash our hands, we’ll use hand sanitizer or disinfectant wipes. (If you can’t get sanitizer anymore, rubbing alcohol or even high-proof vodka is a workable substitute already used by some first responders.)
    • You should all know this by now, but we need to be especially careful not to touch our faces unless we’ve thoroughly washed first. Also, lesser known, we need to make sure to wash/sanitize after touching our shoes.
  2. Wear personal protective equipment (PPE). We’ve been able to get N95 masks and will wear them, along with eye goggles and/or glasses to prevent possible infection via your eyes; we’ll wear a hat or hoodie and long-sleeve clothing, not because COVID-19 can infect via skin but so we can easily remove potentially-infected clothing at the end of our trip. If any of you are hard-core or high-risk, doctors are making home-made PPE from rain ponchos and trash bags and you can do the same. For the very hard core who have gas masks…that would offer complete protection.
    • The biggest challenge I foresee is trying to keep my kids hands off their face for 40+ hours. My doctor friend laughingly suggested a dog collar, but we realized the best solution would be a physical barrier or restraint preventing our kids from touching their face. Still working on what that can be.
  3. Sanitize surfaces. Airports are doing a thorough job cleaning spaces and planes, but to be safe, we’ll use disinfectant wipes to wipe down all hard surfaces before we sit down, use an area, or eat.
  4. Sanitize phones. We probably touch our phones more often than anything else and it’s often out and potentially exposed. We’ll disinfect our phones each time we wash our hands, otherwise our hand-wash would only last until the next time we touch our phones.
  5. Self-isolate. We may be in public and we may be in shared space with hundreds, but we can still isolate ourselves as much as possible. During layover, we hope to find a hidden corner where we can avoid the crowds. When we need to eat, one person will go while the rest of us stay isolated. Most planes are only selling every-other seat, so that’s good, but we’ll see if we can buy seats for a more secluded place.
  6. Avoid public restrooms. COVID-19 can spread via fecal matter and restrooms are prone to fecal spray. When we’re in na car, we’ll use the side of the road; on the plane, we’ll try to use family-style restrooms so we’re not exposed to others’ fecal spray. (And make sure we flush with the toilet seat down to reduce others’ exposure.) Since we’ve got young kids, we’ll probably get them in diapers to reduce the risk further–for the hardcore or high-risk, you may even want to consider adult diapers.
  7. Pack food and water. So we probably can’t pack enough for 50 hours, but every reduction of contact with others is a reduced risk; this also means we don’t have to trust a restaurant to have been following proper hygiene procedures. If we were traveling mostly be car, we’d bring Meals Ready to Eat for a simple, good meal. And, of course, we’ll travel with a water filter, just in case.
  8. Limit contact with cash. China actually burned cash at hospitals because they believed it was a method which spread COVID-19. When/if we buy something, we’ll try to use credit AMAP (and wash/sanitize immediately after touching the terminal); if we have to use cash, we’ll try to give exact change or perhaps even refuse change, depending on the amount.
  9. Wisely circulate air. Most planes are equipped with HEPA air filters which can help filter COVID-19. So, when we reach our seats, we’ll immediately turn on all the air filters in our row–and, if possible, the rows around us–to maximize the amount of filtered air we breathe. When in our car, though, we’ll turn on intra-car air circulation in a high risk areas (e.g. a city center). Unfortunately, I don’t have a Tesla or else we should be ok.
  10. Thoroughly wash
    1. Ideally before we get home (e.g. at the airport, before getting into the car), we’ll spray ourselves down with a rubbing alcohol solution.
    2. After we get home, while still wearing our mask and goggles–and being very careful not to touch our faces–we’ll remove our shoes and clothing and spray them down with rubbing alcohol for an immediate disinfection. If we can, we’ll place them directly in the wash–if not, they’ll go into a trash bag so we can safely transport them to the washing machine.
    3. Wash hands thoroughly
    4. Use a wash cloth to wash our faces thoroughly, being careful to wipe away from our eyes, nose, and mouth.
    5. Bathe or shower thoroughly, being careful not to let water run into our eyes, nose, or mouth from potential areas of infection (like hair).
  11. Disinfect all belongings. If able, this would be wise to do before arriving at our destination (e.g. at the airport and before entering the car), but we’ll see what we can do. If not, we’ll definitely do it at home. Rubbing alcohol in a spray bottle is a great solution for all kinds of surfaces; disinfectant wipes are also effective, though don’t work as well on soft surfaces as a spray does.

That’s our plan–hopefully it can keep us safe and keep you safe if you are in a similar situation. I’ll report back here with how the trip went.

We also might face a quarantine after we travel–it’s less likely for us, but I wrote up some tips for y’all if you think you’ll be going into a hotel quarantine. Check that out and stay tuned for more!

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