Traveling in the COVID-19 era

7 July 2020

The world is still in a pandemic, and we cannot eliminate the risks. Many countries are slowly getting back to normal, while others are still going through difficult times with COVID-19 cases on the rise. Globalization has led to such a rapid spread of the virus, leading to a pandemic, and every traveler should take responsibility as a member of the larger society, and a potential spreader. 

To date (July 6th, 2020), many countries, including Canada and the United States, still have a travel advisory mentioning to avoid all non-essential travels outside the country. As long as the public authorities suggest the following, we cannot encourage any traveling. 

In general, the risk of exposure to COVID-19 is still there. Air travel exposes you to closed areas with other people, while a family or road trips may be less so. Therefore, transportation and destination should be important factors to consider as parts of your travel plan. Also, an emphasis on COVID-19 should not make us ignore the fact that other diseases still present in different areas of the world (eg. Typhoid fever, yellow fever, hepatitis A, B, C, and many more). See John Hopkins COVID-19 map for the latest trends.

Despite all this, many people will still want to travel or have to travel for personal or professional reasons. In these cases, we care for you to travel safely, so here are some recommendations to consider: 

Expect change:

Airlines and airports are required to follow different guidelines and things will be different. Your collaboration and adaptability will be important. 

Respect others:

Don’t travel if you have symptoms (possible symptoms of COVID-19 presented in different languages) or have been in contact with someone with COVID-19. 

Avoid contact: 

  • Stay 6 feet (or 2 meters) away from others, and bring the fewest objects possible. The least you carry, the less contact! 
  • Use an electronic boarding pass on your smartphone (vs paper).
  • Bring wipes and make sure that what you buy is of quality. Example of resources and government database links to assess the reliability of the purchased product. 
    • List of hand sanitizers approved by Health Canada (Canada)
    • FDA approved drugs (United States)
    • You may clean the basket at security (before putting your objects), your plane seat, and anything else if needed. 
    • You may also clean your clothes with hot water upon arrival at your destination, or put them in a plastic bag for at least 24 hours. 

Coronavirus on surfaces

  • The coronavirus can be cleaned from surfaces with disinfectants. Some studies have shown that COVID-19 can survive for up to 72 hours on plastic and stainless steel, less than 4 hours on copper, and less than 24 hours on cardboard. 
  • Data also show that it is harder to catch the virus from soft surfaces (eg. clothes, fabric, etc.). And, from what we know to date, the transmission of the virus is mainly through contact, not from touching surfaces or clothing. Social distancing is the right solution up to now. 
  • In the plane, choose the window seat (more spaced from the aisle and movement), or a seat that allows at least 6 feet (2 meters) distance with any other travelers (consider sides, front and back). 
  • Avoid touching your face, your mask, your eyes, and your nose

Keep clean:

  • Keep hand sanitizers (60% of ethanol minimum) close and handy;
  • Wash your hands or use hand sanitizers frequently.

Facial protection:

  • Wear a facemask, cloth mask and/or face shield
  • Facemasks /cloth masks:
    • Should be at least 2 layers, eg. cotton, bandanas, scarves, or other) depending on the country, you can be faced with a fine (5,000$!!) if not respected.
    • Facemasks are not recommended for:
      • Kids under the age of 2;
      • If someone has trouble breathing or respiratory problems, a face shield would be more appropriate.

Facemasks or surgical masks:

  • If possible, facemasks should be single-use;
  • Don’t share masks;
  • If the mask is soiled, visibly dirty, or torn, throw away (don’t reuse);
  • Time to change your mask when: it becomes damp, humid or was used for 1 day;
  • If you were sick, throw the mask away;
  • If the mask is only a little bit humid but is still in good shape, it can be placed in a plastic or paper bag for 72 hours or more. Don’t wash surgical masks.

How to reuse facemasks:

Ideally, it’s one-time use. But in case of limited stock, here is an easy way to reuse surgical masks by rotating usage:

  • 5 masks labeled 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 – for 10 to 15 days
  • 5 Ziploc or paper bag on which you write #1, 2, 3, 4, 5 (paper bag is better for the environment)
  • Wear mask #1 on day 1
  • After day 1, put mask #1 in bag #1
  • On day 2, wear mask #2
  • And so on. After day 5, start over at day 1. 
    • The exact number of possible safe facemask re-use is unknown, but some data suggest that each surgical mask should not be used for more than 3 days total. 
    • Possible to do this rotation with 3 masks/bags, allowing a minimum of 72 hours or more between each mask re-usage. 

Cloth masks should be hand washed with soap and water after each use and left in a dry place to dry.

Reminder regarding transmission and quarantine:

COVID-19 is mainly spread through respiratory droplets from an ill person, but reports have also indicated that asymptomatic people (people having COVID-19 without experiencing any symptom or feeling of illness) can also transmit the disease. The World Health Organization (WHO) is still assessing asymptomatic transmission. 

Depending on the arriving country, quarantine may be mandatory for international travelers, such as Canadian arrivals. “[…]Travellers returning to Canada will be subject to a mandatory 14-day self-isolation under the Quarantine Act.” – Minister of Health Canada

A pandemic cannot be overcome without a collaborative approach of all humans. Stay safe.

Written by: Dr. Stephanie El-Chakieh, Pharmacist | Pharm.D., M.Sc.