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Traveling safety tips post-COVID-19 vaccine

Just when the world started to open back up again, the Delta variant—a mutation of the coronavirus—has started to spread. While experts are not ready to say how it will affect our daily lives, there have been no new bans on travel. But are the risks still at an acceptable threshold for vaccinated people?

What to know before planning a trip post-vaccine

“The risk of exposure during travel for those who are fully vaccinated is an acceptable risk for most people,” says Tia Neely, M.D., a Piedmont family medicine physician. “For those who are still unvaccinated or for children too young to vaccinate, testing for COVID one to three days before travel is recommended to protect yourself and those you may contact along the way.”

Because of the rise in cases of the Delta variant among unvaccinated people, your first step should be checking with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or the World Health Organization (WHO) to see if there are any restrictions on traveling to your destination.

“The CDC updates a list of high-risk destinations to avoid based on COVID trends in those areas,” says Dr. Neely.

You should also check to see what kind of public mandates are in place, such as mask-wearing, social distancing or limited hours at certain businesses.

COVID-19 and travel: The Delta variant 

So far, evidence suggests that vaccinated people can still become infected with the Delta variant, although they may be less likely to become severely ill. However, there is no research yet stating whether vaccinated people can spread the virus to others.

If you get infected while traveling, you can spread the virus to the people you live or work with when you return, even if you don't have symptoms. If you’re in regular contact with someone who is not vaccinated or at increased risk for severe illness, that may be a consideration.

How to travel safely during the COVID-19 pandemic

Of course, flying is not the only mode of transportation.

“Traveling with household members in a car or RV and avoiding large crowds in confined spaces lowers your risk,” says Dr. Neely.

This presents a safer option for those with compromised immune systems or people who cannot be vaccinated, like children under 12. While some would argue that car travel isn’t necessarily safer, given the fact that people often stop and visit restaurants and gas stations along the way, there are measures you can take. For example, packing your own food, only making stops for gas and restroom usage, washing your hands carefully and wearing a mask when you’re inside will mean less exposure to potentially infected people.

As more studies are done on Delta and other variants, travel recommendations may change. If you have any questions or concerns before setting off on vacation, don’t hesitate to ask your primary care physician.

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