Today, I’m going to offer some tips on things we did to protect ourselves while traveling during the COVID 19 pandemic. We traveled three times in 2021 to see my parents in western New York, twice by car and once – the last time, in an emergent situation – by plane. The trip from Wisconsin to Rochester, New York in September was the first air travel we had taken since February of 2020 when we flew to Santa Fe, New Mexico. If you’ve kept track of dates, the pandemic caused major closings of schools, restaurants, and social distancing rules as early as the next month.
When we traveled by car, in January and June of 2021, we made few stops. We stopped for gas and to go to the lavatory. In January, we took all of our food – even though we were staying at my parents’ home – we did not want to have to grocery shop, go to restaurants, or go out for anything during our five-day stay. We masked and kept socially distanced in the places we had to stop. We also washed our hands frequently and used a hand sanitizer when we couldn’t use a sink. We were very well aware that we could transmit the virus to my parents during both of these visits, and took precautions so it did not happen.
In September, we traveled by plane to stay with my father while my mom was hospitalized. No, her hospitalization was not COVID-related, but life-threatening, nonetheless. On the plane flights, travelers were masked. The airports were clean and efficient. During our hospital visits, we were screened upon entering the facility each time. The staff was polite and competent. Visiting hours were abbreviated but since my mom was in ICU for 8 days of her stay, we also had to abide by the rules of that unit (one person at a time, for most visits). My dad and I visited the grocery store several times during my 2.5-week stay. We followed social distancing rules. However, some of our fear was alleviated by knowing we had been adequately vaccinated last spring. In fact, I was instrumental in obtaining vaccine appointments for my parents by attempting daily for seven weeks, until I was successful. My sister-in-law (who had obtained her vaccines) took them to their appointments for the immunization.
Through all of that, none of us got COVID. My Mom spent seven weeks total as a resident of the ICU, transitional care unit, and then a nursing home all affiliated with the same hospital system. Those units ALL had people with COVID. Thankfully, she did not contract it and neither did my Dad. I have to say that we have to credit the diligence of the staff with the fact they avoided becoming ill with the COVID virus during her hospitalization.
Upon arriving home, my husband and I got ready for a trip to some National Parks in Utah and Arizona. Again, we had planned to fly. By traveling emergently in September, we knew what the airport travel would involve. On our trip there, everyone was masked. I observed people to be careful not to touch a drink or snack being passed or breathe on one another carelessly.
I had downloaded a QR reader to my phone prior to leaving because several of the restaurants locally in Wisconsin have stopped using menus, requiring a smartphone to access the menu. We did not need it. Menus were gladly handed out – although I did note that they were laminated to facilitate being cleaned. I kept hand sanitizer wipes in my backpack and rental car. I used them.
Masking was kept in place at hotels, in the National Park buildings (if they were open at all), and in some restaurants but not all. We basically followed the rules of the place we were visiting. If the restaurant wanted us to wear masks until served, we did. But, when we asked if we should don a mask when stepping inside a restaurant in Sedona, a young man laughed and told my husband, “This is Arizona, dude! You don’t need to put your mask on.” The untruth of it made us laugh.
We felt comfortable in every place we went on our trip in October. I’d say the guidelines to mask and social distance in airports are taken seriously. I heard staff in a gift shop in the Grand Canyon ask shoppers to put a mask on or step outside the store. Yes, some services are slowed or interrupted due to the continued social distancing. You need to both expect this and be patient. Allowing your plans to be flexible helps immensely.
The only thing that irritated me was the last flight home from Minnesota to Wisconsin, the woman in front of us never wore her mask. She had it on when she boarded and then took it down from her nose and mouth. She talked the whole 30-minute flight to the person next to her, who also had his mask off his face. (We think they knew each other.) The airline attendant never spoke to either of them about putting their masks on. Both the passengers and the purposely ignorant attendant made me angry.
In general, you can travel now, but following the rules set in place is essential to staying safe and keeping others safe as well. It is also essential to continue with thorough hand washing. That’s nursing 101.