Each week members of our leadership team meet with infectious disease experts and independent school leaders in St. Louis. On our most recent call, we were reminded that new COVID-19 cases are most commonly tracked to social gatherings, both small family gatherings and larger gatherings. With the holidays coming up, please keep this in mind as you make your plans for the holiday. Some things to consider:
- Is it safe to travel or visit family over the holidays?
COVID-19 can be contracted through any number of daily activities, travel included, but there are steps you can take to maximize safety. The highest risk activity is not actually the travel itself, as long as travelers take reasonable precautions, but what you do once you reach your destination. Social gatherings with large numbers of people, even family, are your greatest risk for becoming infected with COVID-19. Virtual gatherings (e.g., Zoom, FaceTime) are the safest way to see distant family
- Does it matter where I travel?
Because all of the United States has significant community spread at this time, traveling anywhere in the country is not significantly riskier than staying in St Louis.
- What is the safest way to travel?
The safest way to travel is to drive only with people who live with you. Next safest is traveling with a small number of acquaintances who have also been observing safety protocols. In this case, everyone should still wear masks throughout the travel duration.
- How can I keep myself safe while traveling?
- First and foremost, if you have any symptoms of COVID-19 (fever, new or worsening cough, trouble breathing, chills, unexplained muscle or body aches, loss of smell/taste, new or worse sore throat or new or worse diarrhea), DO NOT TRAVEL.
- Make sure you bring protective supplies with you, including extra masks, hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes.
- Wear your mask at all times when in the same place as anyone not in your household. This includes while in lines, in airports or train stations, on the plane/train/bus, and in taxis and shuttles. If you have access to a medical mask, consider using this for crowded areas in particular.
- When booking travel, choose companies that have and enforce mask requirements.
- Ask to be reseated if you are within one to two rows/seats of any unmasked passengers.
- Avoid removing your mask. If you need to hydrate while traveling, take short sips of your drink and promptly put your mask back on. Avoid eating meals if at all possible.
- Wipe high-touch surfaces around your seat.
- Wash/sanitize your hands before and after being in public settings and always before you eat.
- Keep windows open in cars, taxis, shared-ride services and on buses if possible.
- What are the safest places to stay if I travel?
Single-occupancy places like home rentals or Airbnb are probably lower risk than hotels, but hotels can also be safe. Choose hotels that have and enforce mask requirements. While there, avoid indoor facilities like the pool, gym, restaurants and especially bars.
- How do I stay safe when I am celebrating Thanksgiving with others?
The safest way to celebrate is with only those in your household, but, if you choose to celebrate with others, these tips can improve your safety:
- Ensure all participants check themselves for COVID-19 symptoms just prior to coming together.
- Keep gatherings small and only with those you have confidence are following public health measures. Numbers should be less than 10; the fewer the better.
- Maintain physical distancing of six or more feet between people at all times.
- Wear masks when not eating.
- Consider eating in shifts to limit the number of people unmasked at one time.Wash hands before and after eating.
- Should I be tested for COVID-19 before I travel or visit family?
Unfortunately, asymptomatic testing is of very little value in these circumstances. Recent events have demonstrated that even daily testing cannot prevent the spread of COVID-19 among people when they are not following public health measures, even among their loved ones. This is because the test only documents that you are not shedding virus in the moment that the test is done and likely over the next 18-24 hours. A person who was exposed one to two days prior to travel would almost certainly test negative but still actually be contagious on Thanksgiving Day or in the days that follow. Also, a negative test may sometimes be a false negative, meaning you could still unknowingly have COVID-19 at the time the test is done and pass it to others if you do not take the mitigation steps listed above. Anyone who is symptomatic or who has been exposed to a person known to have COVID-19 should not travel.
- Should I be tested when I return?
For the same reasons that testing before travel or a family event is not helpful, it is of similar limited value on return. The various timings of exposure during a four-day holiday make it impossible to anticipate the best day for any single individual to test and the majority of folks who were exposed during travel would test negative because of the timing, providing a false sense of security.
The choice of how to celebrate the holiday is personal to each family, but please remember, we are all reliant on each other to keep school operating and keep COVID out of our school.