Vaccines, treatments, PPE and staying local: 4 scenarios that might make travel possible
Editor’s note: The team at The Points Guy loves to travel, but now is not the time for unnecessary trips. Health officials say the fastest way to return to normalcy is to stop coming in contact with others. That includes ceasing travel. TPG doesn’t advise booking travel until later this year — and even then, be mindful of cancellation policies.
I canceled a trip to Vienna yesterday. It was the last of my 2020 flights and hotel arrangements that were still on the books. I'd been dragging my feet canceling those plans -- not because I thought we'd actually make the trip with the threat of COVID-19. I just hated the thought of having no trips on the calendar. Not a one. That's like a gut punch when you tend to mark the success of each year by the destinations you visit and the people you meet along the way.
My husband and I have met some of our closest friends while on the road and we often travel with the people we love the most but don't have the luxury of seeing regularly. Giving up destination exploration and those special moments to reconnect with friends and family has challenged my optimism. Like so many others right now, I'm struggling with the loss of normalcy and so many of the things that make life such a joy.
Many of my colleagues at TPG are struggling too and have taken solace in booking some speculative, cancelable trips for later this year and in early 2021. It's really tough to love travel and have absolutely no real plans in the making. But that's my new reality. With what I know right now, I don't plan to travel -- at least very far from my home and only under very controlled circumstances -- for the rest of this year and possibly throughout 2021. And, you know what, that's OK. We'll all have to make decisions about travel based on the conditions on the ground at the time and our personal comfort levels.
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I've researched how we may all be able to resume travel in the future and identified a few scenarios that led me to this way of thinking. Here they are:
Scenario 1: Travel once there's a vaccine
These days, I'm spending a lot of time reading publications like the New England Journal of Medicine, The Lancet and the U.K.'s BMJ. The more articles and studies that I read -- written by reputable scientists and doctors -- I realize that we just don't know enough about the novel coronavirus and COVID-19, the disease it causes.
While some people have (thankfully) had very mild cases of the disease, others have gone through hell, suffered incredibly and then died alone. USA Today recently interviewed Dennis Carroll, who led the Agency for International Development's infectious disease unit for more than 10 years. Carroll told the newspaper that perhaps only one-third of COVID-19 patients on ventilators survive. A troubling fact.
For the lucky people who've survived the disease, we don't yet know what long-term health issues will present in the future. Doctors and researchers are already noting compromised kidney function, heart damage and a propensity in some patients to suffer a stroke. As someone who spent 18 months caring for a heart disease patient after a severe kidney failure event, I can tell you that those ailments are tragic in the end -- excruciatingly painful for the patient and heartbreaking for the family.
Armed with this data, I've decided that I don't want to do anything to increase my family's odds of contracting COVID-19 and then suffering from any of its possible long-term repercussions.
For me, my comfort level rises once a vaccine exists and is deployed across the global population. If you read the research on vaccine development though, while some promising trials are happening, most experts agree it could take a year to 18 months before we have a viable vaccination that's been tested and approved. Then it will have to be produced in mass quantities and an inoculation program -- the scope of which we haven't seen in years -- would need to be implemented.
Considering the evident inability of the United States to adequately source or produce personal protective equipment (PPE) for medial professionals and cotton swabs needed to test for the virus, color me dubious that a vaccination rollout would be efficient and smooth in this country. But, even just the launch of a vaccination program would give me confidence that the world is going to get back to normal -- at least a new sort of normal.
Related: Complete guide to traveling during the coronavirus outbreak
Scenario 2: Travel once treatments are available
I have friends who plan to travel again once viable COVID-19 treatments exist. And, that may be the right answer for some people. While the immunosuppressive drug hydroxychloroquine was initially touted as very promising, several studies now show that it is not an effective treatment. In a study of nearly 400 patients at U.S. Veterans Health Administration medical centers, it was found that recipients of the drug actually had an increased risk of dying compared to patients who didn't take the medicine. And, they were no less likely to require a ventilator to control the symptoms of the illness. This backs up the findings of several similar studies done by different organizations.
But, plenty of other drugs are in clinical trial right now and it's a waiting game to see if any are the silver bullet for our problem.
With any new drug, I'd need to know more about the treatment, its efficacy and availability. And, I'd want to see data on whether or not it mitigates any long-term consequences from the disease. If it doesn't, I'd still be extremely leery of traveling -- especially to destinations where the infection rate is still high, where these new treatments aren't easily accessible or to places that don't have state-of-the-art medical facilities that will treat foreigners.
After reviewing information about the development of COVID-19 treatments, not getting the disease in the first place is still my preference -- even once treatments become available.
Scenario 3: The case for social distance at your destination
To be honest, Scenarios 1 and 2 both make me want to walk into the ocean. Is there a third option? Maybe so. I can picture my family making limited vacation plans locally or regionally under specific circumstances.
Once the infection rate is in decline, we might feel comfortable booking a long weekend at a resort close to home. We'd likely pick The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island. We'd spend all of our time on the beach instead of at the pool and we'd nix dining out in the restaurant and instead select room service.
Or, maybe we might be able to visit somewhere within driving distance of our home. I'd look for accommodations will a full kitchen so we could prepare our own meals or opt for takeout. The destination would have to have plenty of outdoor activities -- a beach, bike paths, hiking trails -- where it's possible to still follow social distancing protocols if we so choose. I can't imagine going to a city this fall or winter but perhaps a mountain cabin, beach cottage or lake house vacation rental would be a possibility.
Scenario 4: Travel with additional precautions
While I'd prefer not to board an aircraft until either Scenario 1 or 2 plays out, there may be situations in which I'll need to travel within the U.S. I have older relatives and it may not be reasonable to think I can go a year or longer without seeing them -- especially if they need help with anything. If I had to travel within the U.S. while coronavirus is still causing infections, I'd take additional precautions while traveling through the airport, while on the plane or in an Uber.
Those precautions would likely include wearing a full face shield with a fabric mask underneath paired with goggles. The equipment I have -- which I purchased way back in January -- is meant for chemists and would adequately protect my eyes, mouth and face. I'd then be extremely careful to touch as little as possible during transit, wipe down my airplane seat and tray table with disinfectant wipes and use hand sanitizer often. When arriving at my destination, I'd bathe my shoes in alcohol, disinfect the face shield and goggles, clean my suitcase, take a shower and wash my travel clothes.
The decision to wear certain types of PPE would have to be made right before each flight with the most recent data about the transmission of coronavirus as well as infection rates at your home base and destination. And, of course, you'd have to find a source where these PPE items are available for sale.
Related: How to thoroughly disinfect your airplane seat
We're learning more about the novel coronavirus every day and that means each of us will need to constantly reassess the ways in which we're willing to live with the threat -- now and in the future. I am positive that things will get better and there will be a vaccine or treatments, or the virus may just expunge itself like SARS did back in 2003.
In the meantime, I just have to accept that I'll worry about a multitude of issues. I'll worry about my uncle, a flight attendant, who doesn't have an option not to travel if he wants to keep working. I'll worry about my nieces -- one already in college and one who is supposed to be a freshman in September. Will they be able to get back on campus this fall? How long will it be before I can travel cross-country to see the rest of my family? When can my friends and I meet at our favorite restaurant for a leisurely meal with no fear of who else may be in the dining room and how healthy they are? There's a lot on my mind and you're probably grappling with similar questions.
And, of course, even once I conquer my coronavirus fears and want to travel again, there's no guarantee my preferred destination will want to greet me. Some countries have plans to keep their borders closed to travelers for a while longer and who knows what new visa requirements may come down the pike over the next year. Closer to home, Delta's CEO Ed Bastian is hypothesizing that "immunity passports" or health certifications may be necessary before boarding aircraft right here in the U.S. But, that only works if you can only get COVID-19 once. According to a recent statement by the World Health Organization (WHO), "There is currently no evidence that people who have recovered from COVID-19 and have antibodies are protected from a second infection."
We just need to know more about coronavirus and that's why I believe the way to get through this is to arm ourselves with information. Only then can we make fact-based decisions that are right for us and our families. My decisions may be the opposite of the conclusions you make and that's OK. We should all walk into the future with our eyes open. And, when we can finally travel again, let's be humble and grateful to once again have the privilege to visit the destinations of our dreams.