The 'Tripledemic' Holiday: How to Fly Safer (Tip: Wear a Mask)

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We’re approaching the third year of pandemic vacation travel, but this year, instead of just thinking about how to protect themselves from the coronavirus, people are also concerned about how to avoid the flu and respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, the so-called triplademia. 🇧🇷

What’s also different this year is that there is no federal mandate to wear masks on public transportation. And although coronavirus cases are on the rise, there is no suggestion that mandates will be reinstated.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Transportation Safety Administration suggest that it’s a good idea to wear a mask, but they don’t require travelers to do so.

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“The CDC recommends the proper use of a high-quality mask or respirator over the nose and mouth in indoor public transportation areas (such as planes, trains, buses, ferries) and transportation hubs (such as airports, stations, and seaports) ,” the CDC says on its website.

With the number of people flying close to 2019 levels – the TSA screened over 4.5 million people this past weekend – here are some steps you can take to stay safer when traveling over the holidays.

Should I wear a mask on the plane, even though it is not mandatory?

You should “absolutely” wear masks while traveling, public health researchers, infectious disease doctors and air filtration experts said. Even if planes have great filtration systems, you’ll likely be on planes crowded with other travelers for long periods of time, increasing your chances of exposure, said Saskia Popescu, an infectious disease public health researcher and assistant professor at the Schar School of Policy. . and Government at George Mason University.

“Now compound that with rising numbers for COVID, influenza, RSV, and seasonal respiratory viruses,” she said. “I recommend that if you are traveling by plane, train, bus or boat, wear a mask.”

Do I need to keep a mask elsewhere?

Dr. Linsey Marr, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech and an expert on airborne transmission of viruses said: “If you have a vacation coming up and it’s really important to you that you want to be well and you want to be able to spend time with your loved ones or doing some activity you look forward to year-round, and you don’t want to be laid up sick or potentially make other people sick, so definitely wear a mask when you’re traveling.” She added: “Not just on the plane, but in airports, on buses, in traffic and anywhere else you’re going.”

Even if you’re not traveling, experts say that while it’s no longer necessary, it’s a good idea to wear a mask anywhere you’re around a lot of people in a confined space.

Popescu said he had recently started to develop nonspecific symptoms, including a sore throat. It turned out that she had COVID and had contracted it while returning home from a work trip.

“I can say personally that it’s those moments that you perceive as lower risk or let your guard down that can result in exposure,” she said.

I know masking prevents the spread of the coronavirus, but what about the flu and RSV?

Masking prevents the spread of all types of germs and is “the best tool we have to stop the spread of these burgeoning respiratory viruses, from COVID to the flu to RSV,” Popescu said.

Marr said the flu and RSV transmit “at least partially” in the same way as COVID-19.

Traveling on vacation is a good time to remember the “three C’s” we started hearing in 2020 – closed spaces with poor ventilation, crowded places and close contact situations – and to wear a mask in each of these situations.

Should I wear a specific type of mask when traveling?

While wearing a mask is most effective in preventing the spread of a virus when the infected person is wearing it, masking yourself to protect yourself from illness is still beneficial, especially if you are wearing a high-quality mask.

“If you’re going to bother wearing a mask right now, I think you should buy a high-quality one,” Marr said. That usually means an N95, KN95 or KF94, she added. “These will be much more effective than a cloth or surgical mask.”

These are widely available, affordable, and you can use the same one until you notice it’s dirty, the handles are coming off, or it’s damaged.

Do I have to get a COVID test before and after I travel?

If you’re traveling within the US or from abroad to the US, you’re not required to get tested, but the CDC and medical officials say it’s a good idea. “Consider getting tested with a viral test as close to departure time as possible (no later than three days) before travel,” says the CDC. If you test positive, they say, you should delay your trip.

🇧🇷If you are traveling and plan to interact with people without a mask, all the more reason to test before the flight and for a few days after landing,” said Popescu. “How much you test is really about your risk profile and preference.”

You have to consider things like how much you’re interacting with other people, whether you’ll be with vulnerable people, and whether you’ll be exposed.

“Overall, I recommend testing before you leave and a few times during your trip,” Popescu said.

How about getting vaccinated?

US citizens and immigrants do not need to be vaccinated to fly within the US or from abroad to the US. Non-US citizens and non-US immigrants traveling to the US by air are required to prove that they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Only limited exceptions apply. If you are not fully vaccinated and allowed to travel to the United States by air under an exception, you will need to sign a certificate before boarding your flight stating that you meet the exception. Depending on the type of exception, you may also be required to declare that you have taken protective measures.

Additionally, all travelers must provide their contact information to airlines to assist with contact tracing, if necessary.

Is it too late to get a backup?

Bernard Camins, medical director of infection prevention at Mount Sinai Health System, and Aaron Milstone, pediatric infectious disease specialist at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, said “it’s never too late” to get an up-to-date COVID booster.

“Most data suggests that a full immune response to a vaccine dose can take 14 days, but some of our initial data have shown that people can generate an antibody response within a few days,” Milstone said. “You might be more protected in a few weeks, but there might be some benefit a few days later, so get an early holiday treat by getting the boost.”

Camins said that since there isn’t great data on this aspect of boosters, it’s possible that the booster will reach effectiveness before the 14-day mark. And, he said, with vaccines in abundance, it’s easy to get vaccinated quickly. “If you make an appointment today, it will work,” he said.

Is there anything else I can do to safely prepare for my trip?

Experts suggest thinking about why you’re traveling and perhaps taking extra precautions. “We are at the point where, for most people, these illnesses are not a personal threat if you are healthy. At the same time, on holidays, we often get together with family and visit more vulnerable people and older family members in particular,” said Marr.

Marr’s nuclear family will be spending the holidays with his elderly parents, so in an effort to minimize the chances of passing any illnesses on to them, his family unit will be taking more precautions, such as not visiting crowded enclosed spaces before the trip.

“We probably won’t go to any restaurants the week before, just to minimize our chances of catching a virus and bringing it to them,” she said.

Influenza and seasonal respiratory viruses like RSV are also more easily spread through contaminated items and hands, “so hand hygiene and cleaning/disinfecting high-touch surfaces is an important strategy,” Popescu said. . “Also, a good reminder to avoid touching your face.”

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