The end of the year is sneaking up, and people are weighing travel plans to join friends and family for the holidays — all against the backdrop of a deadly pandemic.
Gathering with others — probably the most universal holiday tradition — has never required so much meticulous forethought.
Should you travel for the holidays in 2020? What precautions will make it safer? Who will be there and how careful have they been?
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that travel increases the chances of contracting and spreading Covid-19. Staying home is the best way to protect against getting and spreading the virus, yet many people are likely to travel before the year is over.
CNN spoke with medical experts on how to reduce the risks around holiday travel and when you really should skip it altogether.
Should you travel for the holidays this year?
“Probably not, if you are anxious or vulnerable,” says Dr. Richard Dawood, a travel medicine specialist and director at Fleet Street Clinic in London.
But traveling is fine if you’re willing to be cautious, follow the rules and adapt easily to changes of plan, he said.
“I think the threshold for travel at this time should still be higher than before the pandemic,” says Dr. Henry Wu, director of Emory TravelWell Center and associate professor of infectious diseases at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta.
“If you do choose to travel, try to keep gatherings small and take precautions,” such as wearing a mask and practicing social distancing and good hand hygiene, Wu said.
Who should skip it?
People who are especially vulnerable to severe Covid-19 illness are safest staying home.
“Are you older, are you frail, do you have chronic underlying illnesses?” are the questions to ask, says Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious diseases specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee.
People who are considering meeting up with vulnerable relatives or friends should really weigh the implications of introducing illness to them, Wu said.
“There are well-documented Covid-19 clusters associated with family gatherings, including ones that resulted in deaths,” he said.
Are some locations safer than others?
Gatherings are likely safer in areas around the world where infections remain low, although the standard precautions still apply.
For example, it may be possible to have a “relatively normal” Thanksgiving gathering in parts of the United States where infections are very low, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
“But in other areas of the