For the millions of Americans who migrate between North and South as the seasons change, the coronavirus outbreak has created a dilemma: Are they better off staying where they are or heading home? Because they are older, these “snowbirds” are at higher risk of COVID-19 complications.
Choosing to return home or to stay put is an individual decision, experts said. Though some, like Dr. Isaac Weisfuse, an epidemiologist and adjunct professor at Cornell University Public Health, came down adamantly on the stay side of the question.
“Stay where you are, especially if your situation allows you to avoid contact with other people,” he said. “If you are perfectly safe quarantining where you are, that would be preferable than driving many hours in a car and risking exposure.”
Here’s what to take into account.
Consider where you are, where you are headed
That advice comes from Jack Caravanos, a clinical professor at New York University School of Global Public Health.
Caravanos suggests making a list of all the possible human interactions — which proportionally increase the risk of infection — where you are vacationing versus back home.
“Shopping, neighbors, walking down your street, walking your dog,” Caravanos said. “Then compare that to your destination site. Are you going to be around as many people? Is it likely that you are going to be surrounded by infected people?”
How prevalent are cases?
Saskia Popescu, a senior infection preventionist at HonorHealth, a nonprofit health care group based in Arizona, said it is crucial to assess the situation back home.
“Travel is one risk factor,” she said. “But are you leaving a place that has less transmission and less risk to go back home? That seems like it might be something to reconsider.”
On the flip side is the question of whether you will continue to have access to food, medical care and other essentials where you are staying.
Drive, don’t fly
For those who do choose to travel, driving is preferable to flying as it reduces contact with other people. It is important to continue taking precautions on the road: washing or sanitizing hands after touching any surfaces and remaining at least 6 feet away from other people — especially when stopping for gas, to eat or to rest.
Although some accommodations have closed, many hotels, motels, rest stops and gas stations remain open during the outbreak, said Alex Susskind, a professor at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration.
Plan, plan, plan
Carefully choreograph your trip before departing. “They should map their journeys and make reservations ahead of time at the hotels,” Susskind said. “Make sure that there are sufficient gas stations that are open and rest stops along the way.”
Once travelers have developed a game plan, sharing the itinerary with friends and family is also key, Susskind said. They should follow up with hotels and other places they plan to stop along the way as the situation can change in a matter of hours. And they should have a backup plan in case anything changes. Those who take medications should bring more than what they need in case of an emergency.
“It probably wouldn’t be a bad idea to also identify health care providers along the route in the event that something happened,” Susskind said. “It’s really just the idea of setting up a plan, from beginning to end, of all of your needs.”