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Coronavirus: Should you travel?

Written by Diane Archer

Paula Span reports for the New York Times on how older adults are weighing the risks of traveling during the pandemic. Because older adults are more likely to get seriously ill from COVID-19, isolation is the best way for people to protect themselves. But, being around others is also important and that often necessitates travel.

Even if you have no underlying health conditions, if you are over 65, you are at higher risk from COVID-19. You are more at risk of being hospitalized if you get it. And, the risk increases, the older you are. Eight out of ten COVID-19 deaths are people over 65, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

People in their 80s with COVID-19 are easily 20 times more likely to die than people in their 50s, according to one study from England. And, if you get COVID-19 and recover, you are more likely to have lasting mental and physical impairments from the virus.

If you are over 65, you have the same chance of getting COVID-19 as anyone else. You should try to keep out of crowded places as much as possible. Supermarkets, big box stores and public transportation often do not have good ventilation and put you in a risky environment.

Of course, if you travel, you should take all precautions possible. Always wear a face mask when around others. Don’t use public bathrooms and, if you must use a public bathroom, make sure to sanitize around you. Of course, wash your hands as much as possible while you are out and once you’re back home.

Whether to travel depends on your priorities. All the precautions you should take tend to add stress to your life. They promote anxiety that would not be as present if you stayed home. But, staying home all the time creates its own stresses and anxieties. Being around family and friends can be comforting.

When should you go out? If you’ve postponed needed medical care, that could be worth going out for. Talk to your doctor.

You might also go out for nonessential purposes. You might want a haircut. Whatever you decide to do, think ahead about how best to protect yourself. Call to confirm that everyone will be wearing a mask. Perhaps ask to have the first appointment of the day so you are not waiting, there are fewer people around, and the space has just been cleaned. Always wear a mask and make sure the areas around you are sanitized and the people around you are wearing masks.

You might want to have an outdoor dinner or cocktails with friends and neighbors. Outdoors is always safer than indoors, especially if you keep a six foot distance between yourself and others. Consider bringing your own cutlery and serving utensils to better protect yourself.

Note that being outdoors might bring other risks. Many public health departments have deployed all resources to contain the novel coronavirus and do not have the funding to identify and kill disease-carrying mosquitoes. As a result, there is concern that many more people will be harmed by deadly mosquitoes this summer.

If you’re indoors, everyone around you should be wearing a mask and as many windows and doors as possible should be open in order to keep the air circulating.

You should factor the prevalence of COVID-19 where you live into your decision as to whether to venture out. If you live in Florida or Arizona, where cases are rising dramatically, you should think harder about going out than if you live somewhere where the number of cases is small.

Economists at MIT believe that the best strategy for people 65 and older is to stay isolated for 18 months, until you can get a vaccine. That is often unrealistic. And, it takes an emotional toll. The problem with seeing friends and family at a social distance, however, is that it is easy to lapse into old patterns and overlook critical protections.

Everyone around you can look healthy, so it could seem fine to give them a hug or take off your mask. The unfortunate reality is that people who look healthy can have the virus and spread the virus. To protect yourself, you have to assume everyone around you is not healthy.

Unfortunately, the CDC is not providing the guidance to older adults that it has in the past. As a result, you are subject to all kinds of conflicting advice from state and local authorities. And, it can be hard to square the circle.

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