With all the hardships and emotional stress we’ve faced throughout the past year and a half since the outbreak of COVID-19, a relaxing family getaway might be more than needed. Though the threat of COVID-19 is decreasing with millions getting vaccinated, it’s still not quite safe to return to the pre-pandemic type of travel, especially with regulations in place that continue to restrict smaller children from receiving the vaccine. How can you be sure your family stays healthy and safe while traveling this summer, and what steps can be taken to further ensure everyone’s health and safety while doing so?
What should I think about while planning our trip?
Traveling with young kids can be hard enough on its own but traveling with younger passengers during a pandemic poses even more questions and risks for parents to think about. It’s important to do some pre-planning before booking any trip to make sure your getaway is as enjoyable as possible.
“Every decision we make about our kids is always risk-benefit. We always have to look at the best way to mitigate the risks and increase the benefit,” says Children’s National Hospital clinical pediatrician Dr. Boogaard. “At the beginning of the pandemic, we had this false-safety mindset regarding children and COVID-19. There are still consequences with COVID-19, and children can definitely still get it.”
As we continue to learn more about COVID-19 heading into the summer, Dr. Boogaard says, “When you think about traveling with young kids, the first thing that I would really encourage is that anyone allowed to get the vaccine should get it. The vaccine is very effective and safe and decreases the risk of hospitalization and death.”
However, this may not be possible for everyone in the family just yet, as clinical trials for the COVID-19 vaccine are still ongoing for children under 12.
“For unvaccinated kids there are a few rules you should follow: do not travel if you’re sick, if you have symptoms, if you’ve been recently exposed to COVID-19 or to someone with symptoms or if you’ve tested positive recently and thus have COVID-19,” Dr. Boogaard notes. (For further help making decisions about traveling with people who are unvaccinated, check out the CDC wbsite.)
Dr. Boogaard explains that, “If you’re unvaccinated the CDC recommends wearing a mask (if over the age of 2), avoiding large crowds and seeing people outside your household, and washing your hands for at least 20 seconds routinely.” Preventative actions such as these are one of the best ways to protect your family both before, during and after any travel.
What should I do before we leave?
There are direct actions that can be taken before departing for your vacation to further ensure everyone’s health and safety, as well as important questions to ask yourself and your family before you book your flights.
“There are things to consider before traveling: could you quarantine before seeing someone who is at a higher risk? Could you get them or yourself tested?” Dr. Boogaard explains.
Keeping questions like these in mind while planning your travel will offer a deeper sense of security for all traveling with you. Furthermore, Dr. Boogaard highlights the importance of preparing contingency plans before you leave to help you feel more confident and prepared before arriving.
“Be prepared when you go for the situations that might arise, for example if someone gets symptoms. This person should quarantine whether they are vaccinated or not until it can be confirmed that it is not COVID-19.”
Dr. Boogaard further notes that it may be helpful to research COVID-19 testing locations near the area you’re staying and put them somewhere accessible prior to departing so you already know where to go if something like this were to happen in an area that you and your family are not familiar with. Researching your destination’s specific COVID-19 policies and/or COVID-19 nearby health centers is a beneficial step to take before deciding to hop on a plane!
My family wants to get together, but we all have differing opinions regarding the safety of COVID-19. What should I do?
“What’s human nature is when you put a big group of people together, they all have their different anxieties around this, and you want to make sure everyone’s comfortable. So, just practicing that flexibility and resilience that we’ve practiced all year are good things to continue going forward,” Dr. Boogaard explains. “Just to be transparent about your own concerns, and your own risk-assessments, and be aware someone might have a different risk-assessment and comfort level, and plan on how to work through that.”
Communication regarding comfortability levels and everyone’s varying health concerns, before seeing them, is the key for all reunions this summer.
Can my unvaccinated kids see their vaccinated grandparents?
Although it has been important to quarantine and try to limit contact with others throughout this pandemic, Dr. Boogaard also emphasizes that, “There has been a lot of trauma associated with COVID-19 over the last year, a lot of loneliness, self-isolation and other mental challenges.” When thinking about traveling to see family during this time, important factors such as those are just as vital to consider when weighing them against the potential physical health risks that may be present. “If this is a grandparent you and your children are not able to see often and you get a chance to visit them this summer, you have to make that decision for your family because it’s different with every situation.”
Just as the pandemic has affected every single family differently, learning how to reincorporate things like travel and family gatherings will look different for every family as well. Ultimately, planning, communicating and cooperating with your own family and your individual family circumstances are some of the most important things to do to ensure you and your family’s getaway is as safe and enjoyable as possible.