Will you be able to take a summer vacation this year? Disease experts weigh in

Apr 10, 2020

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Editor’s note: This post has been updated to reflect AA has not yet extended elite status.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CBS Thursday that leisure travel might be back on the books by summer 2020 if the United States can maintain its current progress toward “flattening the curve” of coronavirus infection spread until the summer months.

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“It can be in the cards,” Fauci said regarding the possibility of a summer filled with traditional social activities such as vacations, baseball games, weddings or family reunions. But Fauci warned that the coronavirus “makes the timeline” on when it would be safe again to travel. Without the right precautions in place, he said, the U.S. would go right back to experiencing “spikes” of outbreak cases.

Related: When will we start traveling again? Here’s a hint from the major U.S. carriers

Fauci also pointed out that the timeline for eliminating social distancing would be different from region to region, with some areas of the country returning to everyday life more rapidly than others.

But Crystal Watson, an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins’ public health school, told CNN Thursday that “we’re not there yet,” referring to the nation’s success in limiting the outbreak. Lifting non-essential activity bans would risk “a huge resurgence — and much worse than what we’ve seen already,” Watson said on CNN’s “New Day.”

Fauci’s prediction seems optimistic in the face of what major U.S. carriers appear to anticipate. In an unprecedented move, Alaska Airlines, Delta, and United have announced elite status extensions for at least one additional year, while many airlines have extended generous change, cancellation and voucher policies. (We are still waiting to hear what American Airlines plans to do).

While this appears to be a boon for travelers on the surface, TPG’s Zach Griff cautioned that this announcement is “nuanced,” pointing out that these measures likely imply that airlines expect greatly reduced routes and traffic for many more months to come.

Will there be “safe” destinations?

Those who have already been hunkered down for a month, with at least many weeks to go, may have grabbed onto the idea of a summer trip like a lifeboat. The problem with trying to plan a summer vacation now is that the novel coronavirus threat can change daily. America’s ability to “flatten the curve” enough for all of us to get back to normal depends on how well communities follow shelter-in-place guidelines and other safety measures designed to stamp out the transmission of the disease. That means certain destinations may start to see a decline in cases sooner than other places. However, that can all change in a hurry if those from a virus “hot zone” descend on a destination that previously had minimal transmission.

Related: 7 destinations without the crowds

If you hope to take a summer vacation, you may want to plan — or at least double-check your plans — at the last minute and look for places with fewer cases. You can monitor the case rate at the CDC’s website.

(Image courtesy of the CDC)
(Image courtesy of the CDC)

Of course, all it takes is being in contact with one carrier that can transmit COVID-19, so this isn’t a foolproof method. Choosing a close-to-home destination so you can eliminate as many points of contact as possible may also be a good strategy. For example, driving to a cabin within two hours of your home eliminates the need to visit an airport or even stop on the road along the way.

Before setting your plans in stone, check with your destination’s local authorities to be sure you can travel there. For example, Hawaii has instituted a 14-day quarantine for anyone arriving to the islands. States currently even have quarantine restrictions for those driving across one state border to another.

(Photo by Caitlin Riddell/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Caitlin Riddell/The Points Guy)

Related: What to know if you’re planning future travel now

What types of accommodations are best?

In addition to cabins in the woods, we are hearing of travelers considering RV travel, beachside vacation homes and less-traveled state and national parks. Motel-style accommodations where you don’t have to walk through the lobby to access your room may also have some advantages. If you’re uncomfortable with anyone coming into your room, tell the hotel that you’re waiving housekeeping services during your stay.

Plenty of home rental companies and hotels have changed their booking and cancellation policies to be more favorable to the customer. But, before booking anything for the summer, carefully read the cancellation policy and be sure you’re comfortable with it in the event that you may need to cancel or postpone the trip at the last minute. Unfortunately, current optimism about potential summer travel may or may not pan out in the long run.

Related: What to know about coronavirus hotel change and cancellation policies

Safety precautions for near-term travel

No matter if you’re heading to the local grocery store or to a nearby beach house rental when restrictions are potentially eased in the coming months, you should take some of the same precautions.

Heed the CDC’s recommendations:

  • Stay at least six feet from other people.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with your hands.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water often and rigorously for at least 20 seconds.
  • Carry hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol and use that when you don’t have access to soap and water.
  • Wear a cloth face mask when you have to go out in public, like when picking up takeout food.
  • When you check in to a hotel or home rental, clean and distinct frequently touched surfaces, like the work desk, and objects like the coffeemaker and TV remote. Be sure to disinfect the doorknob, light switches, sink faucets and basins, etc. (If you don’t have any disinfectant, you can use a solution with 70% alcohol.)

All of these suggested measures may change by the time your summer trip comes around — while others could be added — so just be sure to stay up-to-date on current practices and do everything you can to keep your contact with others to a minimum.

Related: Guide to travel during the coronavirus

Bottom line

Everyone is asking, “Can I travel this summer?” And the answer may be a cautious and optimistic “maybe,” at least for some of us to some destinations. Keep listening to government officials and research destinations that may make sense for a summer sojourn in our current more distanced realities. While a theme park visit may not be in the cards right away, a trip to a more secluded beach or mountains may be just what you need to recharge from your months spent at home once it is safe to do so.

Follow TPG’s complete coverage of the coronavirus impact here

Featured photo by Getty Images. 

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