Want to travel during the COVID crisis? The only safe destination is your backyard.
COVID-19, the new coronavirus disease, is spreading rapidly around the world. As of March 25, there are more than 450,000 cases in 196 countries. Public health agencies are advising people not to travel at all and to stay in their homes as much as possible to try to slow the spread of the disease. If there are other people at a destination, you risk getting COVID-19 from them and you risk giving COVID-19 to them. Unless you can magically teleport yourself to a deserted island or mountain top, the only safe place to travel is your backyard or balcony.
COVID-19: The Basics
It’s still early days on the science about severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the virus that causes COVID-19 infections. WebMD provides the facts in Coronavirus: What You Need to Know, including how the disease is spread and how you can protect yourself from contracting it and spreading it further.
Even if you wanted to travel, right now it’s almost impossible. Most countries have closed their borders to non-nationals and nonessential travel. Airlines are curtailing flights and stopping business altogether, and many people are desperately trying to find their way back to their home countries from abroad. Several governments have ordered lockdowns and about 20% of the world’s population needs a valid reason to leave their homes. In the U.S., at least 100 million Americans are in lockdown. India’s population of 1.3 billion is under one of the strictest lockdowns in the world. Travel, even across town, is limited with most governments encouraging residents to stay home. Many public parks, beaches, and restaurants are closed.
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By Protecting Others We Protect Ourselves
Whether it’s protecting your family, your neighborhood, city, country, or continent, we have an obligation to minimize the spread of COVID-19. Called “flattening the curve,” slowing the spread protects our fellow human beings wherever they live on the planet, and that protects each of us as individuals. It also helps ensure that our healthcare systems are able to respond and that our economies survive what will certainly be a massive recession, and quite possibly, a depression.
While you might think that countries that currently have a low number of cases are safe, they are not. Mild cases of COVID-19 may be what’s driving the rapid spread of the disease and we should assume there are many more cases than what’s being reported. In Iceland, the country that has tested the largest proportion of its population, half of the people who test positive have no symptoms. Most governments are not able to test all patients who do have symptoms, so there really is no accurate count of how many people in the world have COVID-19.
While you might think that countries that currently have a low number of cases are safe, they are not.
Some of the world’s most vulnerable places are destinations popular for vacations. Countries that host a lot of international travelers were some of the first hit, as are countries where citizens travel a lot. COVID-19 is now spreading into developing countries where many people live with low incomes and where health care systems are underfunded. The virus is also spreading into countries with high numbers of malnourished children, people living with HIV, refugees and other displaced people. These countries are even less able to handle the oncoming cases than Italy, the United States, and Spain, the countries with the highest numbers of COVID-19 cases after China.
It’s true that most cases are mild, but that category includes people with no symptoms at all and people who experience what’s called “the worst flu you’ve ever had.” More than 20,000 people, so far, have died from COVID-19. They’re not all old and they don’t all have other health conditions. Doctors, nurses and other health care workers are getting sick and some are dying. So are the people who run your sewage treatment, stock your grocery store, and provide your electricity and internet service. It is essential that each one of us does everything we can to slow down the spread of COVID-19.
COVID Second Waves
The countries that have passed their COVID-19 peak and have falling numbers of new domestic cases aren’t safe either. China was the first country reporting cases of the novel coronavirus. After months of rising cases and deaths, China reported that there were no new domestic COVID-19 cases on March 19. For three days, all new cases in China were from people arriving into the country.
This second wave of infections is also dangerous. The Independent reports second waves are starting in Hong Kong, South Korea, and Singapore. Experts predict that they will continue to happen and will require re-starting rules like physical distancing, the closing of nonessential services, and lockdowns.
Is COVID-19 a Cold Weather Disease?
Winter is cold and flu season, with cases of both diseases rising from December to April in the northern hemisphere. Many experts, as reported by The Atlantic, are predicting that cold and flu season is likely to become cold, flu and COVID season. So, with summer approaching in the north, can we expect COVID-19 reductions? It’s too early to tell.
The world does have more cold and flu cases during the winter and in colder climes. There are many theories why. The BBC describes the real reason germs spread in the winter. For example, we spend more time inside and in close proximity to each other. Breathing cold air might make it harder for our white blood cells to fight germs that enter our mucous membranes. Some studies show that drier air reduces the amount of protective mucous that coats our airways. The drier winter air makes it easier for the tiny droplets we release when we sneeze and cough to float in the air longer, and therefore easier for someone else to breathe in. But, there’s also evidence that warm and humid air, like in tropical countries, causes viruses to adhere to objects better, making it easier to contract an illness by touching something like a doorknob and then touching your face.
Another factor is the physical structure of the virus. COVID-19 is what’s called an enveloped virus. It has an oily coating, called a lipid bilayer. The BBC reports that other enveloped viruses are more susceptible to heat than non-enveloped viruses. When an enveloped virus is in colder temperatures, the oily coating hardens and protects the virus even better than at warmer temperatures. Coronaviruses have been tested at 39 degrees Fahrenheit and survived for 28 days.
The countries that have passed their COVID-19 peak and have falling numbers of new domestic cases aren’t safe either.
Currently, there are more COVID-19 cases in colder countries than in warm ones. But keep in mind that the virus initially spread because of travel and, generally, people in the global north tend to be richer and travel more than people in equatorial countries. Several countries with high numbers of COVID cases also have warm weather—like Singapore, Brazil, Malaysia, and some parts of Spain.
It’s just too early to tell what will happen with COVID-19. A novel virus can behave in ways scientists don’t expect. The novel flu virus responsible for the Spanish flu pandemic, for example, did not follow the pattern of seasonal flu. Summer was the peak of Spanish flu cases.
Can I Resume Normal Life If I’ve Had COVID-19 and Recovered?
More than 113,000 people around the world have recovered from COVID-19. Scientists don’t yet know if they can be infected a second time or not. Reports of mutations of COVID-19 are starting and a patient in Iceland has two different strains of COVID-19 at the same time. Coronaviruses, like the one that causes the common cold, mutate frequently, which is why we don’t develop immunity and keep getting colds. The flu virus also mutates frequently, which is why the flu vaccine changes from year to year.
Even if we knew that people who recover from COVID-19 have immunity, it’s still possible they could carry the virus on their hands or clothes and transmit it to someone else. Normal life, including travel, is simply too risky right now.
Now Is the Time for Travel Dreaming
To flatten the curve, we all need to stay in our homes as much as possible. Minimizing contact with other people is the best way to save lives. But the perfect thing to do while you’re saving the world by self-isolating is to plan your ideal #TravelSomeday vacation for when the COVID crisis is all over. And Fodor’s has got you covered there.