It is dangerous to flee from the coronavirus, not only for yourself
COVID-19 affects people in almost every country. To curb the spread of this pandemic, public health officials heavily rely on two community interventions: social distancing and restricted travel. These measures can prevent the spread of COVID-19 because they interrupt personal contact. The guidelines and restrictions are confusing and can leave room for interpretation. They may also contradict one another.
Many students are being forced to drive or fly home by colleges and Universities around the world. Has been placed under “shelter-in-place” restrictions, which ask people to stay at home as much as they can. This includes large population centers such as New York or even California. Despite this, some people are fleeing and going to their families, friends, or second homes in rural areas. I am an infectious disease epidemiologist, and the idea of more people traveling during a period when diseases are spreading is frightening.
How does voluntary or forced travel fit in with the restrictions and guidelines that are being implemented across the U.S.? What impact does a trip make on the pandemic?
Many universities gave students only a couple of days to pack and leave. AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews
Closed schools and other forced travel
Close quarters in college – such as dorms, fitness centers, and dining halls – can be a breeding ground for bacteria and spread disease. Recent efforts to close schools, cancel classes, and shut down dorms aim to reduce the spread of disease and promote social distancing.
Students explain the impact of a pandemic on colleges by closing them. This may appear to conflict with another public health measure: restricting travel. Residents may have to travel to family members or friends or find alternative housing. Students have been traveling across the U.S.
Travel poses two main concerns from an epidemiological standpoint. First, a traveler free of COVID-19 who must travel to avoid exposure is at increased risk of being exposed to coronaviruses if the virus is present at the destination.
Second, an infected person is a source of transmission that moves. A sick traveler can expose others in transit, such as at the airport or when stopping for food or gas. The virus could be introduced into communities that had not been told before. It is crucial to protect communities that have not been exposed to the virus.
Houston, Texas, is a good example. The first cases were imported by foreign travelers returning home. COVID-19 was imported from other states of the U.S. repeatedly. The virus then established itself locally and spread.
COVID-19 can spread geographically and interpersonally in any amount of travel. This puts more people at risk and increases the COVID-19’s reach.
New York City is empty. Fear of the virus has caused many people to flee the city. Photo by John Minchillo, AP
Shelter in place or run to the hills?
Travel may be necessary for students who are expelled from school or tourists returning home after a trip overseas. What if you want to escape a big city and go someplace with fewer people?
Voluntary travelers are also at risk. You are more likely to be exposed to coronavirus if you spend a lot of time in public restrooms and gas stations. You may also find that the destination you choose is not any safer than where you started.
It is only those who have never been exposed to the coronavirus that should consider traveling. And it can be difficult to know if you are infected. On average, 5 to 10 days go by before symptoms appear. It is also important to note that between 20-50% of COVID-19 patients may not show any signs, and up to 80% may only have mild symptoms. These numbers are subject to change as researchers learn more about the true number of infected people.
You could give coronavirus-free transportation to your destination if you’re infected but don’t realize it.
It is best to avoid traveling at this time. There are various restrictions for domestic and international travel. They are evolving quickly but not likely to slow down anytime soon.
Even if you don’t have any symptoms, if you even have the slightest suspicion that you may have been exposed, it is important to think about your ethical obligations before you travel. Traveling could put your friends, family, and other people in your community at risk of illness, even if you do not have symptoms.