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What to consider if you’re rethinking travel plans because of the coronavirus

Experts have weighed in with insights to help travelers decide whether to stay or go

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With the unanswered question of how long the coronavirus (COVID-19) is going to be with us, many consumers are asking themselves an even more important question -- what do we do about the travel plans we’ve already made?

If you’re on the fence about your travel plans, ConsumerAffairs did some digging to help you  decide.

Asking the right questions

Susan Wootton, MD, an infectious disease pediatrician at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) has a short list of questions that every traveler should ask themselves when deciding whether they should travel in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. 

Wootton says that if your answer matches the response to each question below, consider yourself good on that aspect and move on to the next question. If your answer differs, then you should reconsider traveling.

Are the travelers healthy? Answer: Yes.

Have the travelers received flu shots? Answer: Yes.

Do any of the travelers or anyone the travelers have come into contact with have any underlying high-risk conditions (for example: mom, who has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)? Answer: No.

Are there any travel restrictions for your destination listed on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or the U.S. Department of State page? Answer: No. 

Is the trip a cruise? Answer: Wootten answers that question with an emphatic “No.”

Are there any major events after the trip that would be problematic if you and your travelers were quarantined for a period of time? Answer: No.

Would anxiety during travel ruin the trip for you? Answer: No.

Are you reasonably able to implement common preventative measures (for example: wash hands, keep hands away from face, etc.) during travel? Answer: Yes.

Would your regret be manageable if you or a family member caught COVID-19? Answer: Yes.

Better safe than sorry

ConsumerAffairs reached out to one of our trusted resources, Phil Dengler at TheVacationer.com, to make sure we covered all the bases. Here are Dengler’s suggestions:

Listen to what the CDC is saying about avoiding international travel: Are you traveling to a country that the CDC is suggesting it might be best to avoid? Those countries include China, South Korea, Japan, Iran, and Italy. If so, Dengler advises the traveler to cancel the trip or postpone until the situation begins to resolve itself. 

What type of travel are you going to do? Are you going to be in an area where there will be a lot of people in a contained space? These are the types of situations that make containing the virus spread difficult and ones Dengler would advise avoiding. He recommends postponing or canceling any cruise trip right now and advises against long train trips, as they tend to stop in major cities where the virus is more likely to be present solely due to the increased number of people.

Is the travel essential right now or can it be postponed? If you are traveling to see work clients and it is not essential, Dengler recommends postponing the trip for the foreseeable future. For example, if you work for a company that sees clients or visits different company offices a couple times a year, it makes sense to cancel or postpone your current trip and reschedule in a few months as more information about the virus develops. 

What are the refund policies for your travel? Many airlines have announced that they are trying to work with customers for zero charge change fees. If you research your airline tickets, hotel accommodations, and other travel expenses, what are the refund policies right now? Keep in mind that as COVID-19 spreads, companies are working to evolve these policies. If the refund policies for your trip are favorable and your schedule this year is flexible enough to change your travel right now, then Dengler recommends doing so.

The former FDA commissioner weighs in

As you can see, there’s no hard and fast answer when it comes to whether you should stay or go on a trip. Both Wootton and Dengler’s insights are good places to start, but at the end of the day, it’s the traveler who has to make -- and live with -- the decision.

Dr. Scott Gottlieb, member of the boards of Pfizer and biotech company Illumina and former FDA commissioner, went on CNBC on Monday to weigh in with his perspective on traveling while the virus is still endemic.

“I don’t think we’re at the point where people should shut down their travel right now, and I don’t think we should ever get to the point where we should corridon off parts of this country and prevent people from travelling,” Gottlieb said

“I do think that people need to be more aware of being in crowded environments. And on airplanes, it’s not the air quality that worries me. I don’t think this spreads easily through the air on an airplane. It’s more of the touching of the surfaces and the unclean surfaces -- the passing things back and forth between passengers.”

What Starbucks did to stop coronavirus was brilliant in Gottlieb‘s mind. The company stopped refilling cups that customers brought in to ensure that potentially sick customers weren’t passing on germs to its workers, who in turn touch cups that go to other customers.

“If all businesses started with steps like (what Starbucks is doing) to reduce transmission, we could really have an impact on this,” Gottlieb said.

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