How to travel safely and host travelers over the holidays

Despite rising Covid-19 infections throughout the United States, Europe and beyond, people are preparing to travel in late 2020.

According to a survey by travel booking app Hopper, 39% of Americans are expected to travel during the upcoming holiday season. By that estimate, nearly 130 million people will be hitting the road in the United States alone before the end of the year.  

Homebound and weary after a stressful and vacationless year, many in America at least simply aren’t willing to miss spending Christmas and Thanksgiving with their loved ones, no matter the coronavirus count.

CNBC’s Global Traveler asked doctors for medical advice on how travelers and holiday hosts can more safely celebrate the next seven weeks.  

Before leaving home

1.      Find out who is gathering

It’s important to understand how much risk a family can tolerate, said Dr. William Lang, a former White House doctor and current medical director of telemedicine practice WorldClinic. Start, he said, by assessing the ages and health of attendees.

“A younger family with all healthy members and no recognized, higher risk factors can accept a little bit higher risk than a multigenerational family where some of the older members have chronic diseases,” he said.

A group of younger family members may be able to safely get together, as could a group of older, Covid-cautious relatives. But young people planning to congregate at their parents’ and grandparents’ homes need to be especially careful.

“Unfortunately,” Lang said, “this is not the year for big multigenerational holiday gatherings with family from far-flung places.”

2.      Quarantine before the trip

“The only accepted way to virtually eliminate risk is a 14-day strict quarantine,” Lang said. “But in most families, that’s not practical, and especially with young adults, it probably just wouldn’t happen.”

He said young adults should, at the very least, minimize social activities — “especially bar-like activities” — in the 10 days before going home.

3.      If possible, drive

Dr. Anne Rimoin, a professor of epidemiology at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, said that while data suggests air travel carries minimal risks of contracting the coronavirus, flying “is more than just sitting on a plane.”

“You have to go through [security], wait in seated areas and lines to board, and use public bathrooms,” she said. “You also cannot control who you sit next to, which also dictates your risk.”

During the stay

Advice for holiday hosts

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises making holiday gatherings small enough to allow guests to stay six feet apart at all times. Music should be kept low (to prevent people from shouting to be heard), garbage cans should be contactless, and guests shouldn’t touch pets, per CDC recommendations.

Serving food, a central part of most holiday gatherings, is complicated. The CDC encourages guests to bring food and drinks for themselves; potluck-style meals are to be avoided.

If food is offered, one person should serve, including sharable items such as salad dressings and condiments. All linens, including seating covers and tablecloths, should be laundered immediately after the event.

Finally, hosts should remind guests to stay home if they are sick or have been exposed to Covid-19, said Hijano.

The safest option? Stay home