Coronavirus Travel Questions

Update:

The first of my upcoming cruises has been cancelled and the second one is in jeopardy. I plan to cancel my trip to Washington to see my daughter and my business trip to Minnesota.  I’ll be staying home far the next several weeks with almost no in-person social interaction.

It is surprising how much our world has changed even in a short time. Please stay home and stay healthy.  Follow the CDC and the government’s guidelines.

 

Sunrise in the Morning

There are a lot of questions and concerns about travel at this time in regards to the previously unknown coronavirus or COVID-19. The biggest question is  – should people travel or not? The short answer – it depends.

Several members of my family, my friends, and I have various travel plans scheduled in the next month or two. We have all been weighing the pros and cons, reading the latest reports and recommendations, and trying to make intelligent, informed decisions.

If you are also trying to make a decision, maybe this information will help clarify your situation.

What is the Coronavirus?

Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that are common in people and different species of animals. Although they rarely spread from animals to humans, there have been a few instances – including this one – where they have.

The new respiratory outbreak is caused by a coronavirus named SARS-CoV-2. The virus causes a disease that has been named coronavirus disease 2019, abbreviated COVID-19.

The disease was was first discovered in the Wuhan, Hubei Province, China in late 2019. It started as a virus spread from animals to humans, then being spread among humans.  Although the Chinese authorities tried to contain it, COVID-19 eventually spread to over 100 countries.

Symptoms range from mild to severe and can include fever, a dry cough, and shortness of breath. The symptoms are often mild – some people have no symptoms at all – but in the elderly or people with compromised health, they can become serious. One reason that the disease has spread unchecked, is that the incubation period is from two to fourteen days. This means that someone may become infected and unknowingly continue to spread the disease for two weeks before becoming sick.

Health Concerns

The most important part of the decision has to focus on your health. If you are older or have underlying health concerns, this probably isn’t the best time for certain types of travel.

St. Mark’s Square,
Venice, Italy

Travel to countries where there has been a serious outbreak should be avoided. The State Department lists China and Iran as countries where you should not travel (Level 4). Countries where travel should be reconsidered (Level 3) include Italy, Mongolia, South Korea, and Turkmenistan. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends avoiding all unnecessary travel to China, Iran, Italy and South Korea.

For US citizens, especially those with compromised health, the CDC recommends “avoiding crowded places, avoiding non-essential travel such as long plane trips, and especially avoiding embarking on cruise ships.” They also recommend that all students studying abroad return home.

Too Much?

Many people contend that these precautions go too far. When comparing the coronavirus to the yearly flu, the flu can be more dangerous.  It takes more lives each year in the US than the virus has taken worldwide. However, there are still many unknowns with the virus. Unchecked, it spreads faster than the flu, and the death rate is higher among confirmed cases.

Many (although, not all) travel enthusiasts and seasoned travelers have stated that they will not stop traveling. If they are young and healthy, they are not concerned about contracting the virus.

An Epidemic of Fear

The media has been blamed for blowing the virus concerns out of proportion. Although the media may be somewhat to blame, much of the fear is being spread and multiplied by the general public.

I recently read an article stating that the University of Notre Dame was bringing home the students that had been studying in Rome. The comments were, by far, opposed to this decision. Those commenting were convinced that the students would all be infected and would be lax in self-quarantining, thus spreading the virus to the entire state of Indiana. Since they were returning in time for the school’s spring break, they would also spread the virus to vacation spots around the country.  Each comment drew another more extreme one.

How to Travel Safely

The CDC publishes recommendations that can keep you from getting sick with any contagious disease. These recomendations should be followed all the time, but especially during flu season, and now during the outbreak of COVID-19.

  • Avoid people who are sick
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing, or having been in a public place. Avoid touching your face, nose and eyes.
  • If soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
The Norwegian Breakaway

When I’ve cruised in the past, I’ve noticed the prevalence of hand sanitizer on the ship.  Each time we would re-enter the ship from an excursion, staff was waiting for us with spray bottles of sanitizer. “Washy-washy,” was the common refrain, as they sprayed everyone’s hands.  The washy-washy staff also met us at the entrance to the buffet, ensuring that everyone had clean hands before entering the common eating area.

Financial Concerns for Travelers

A good idea for travel, is to purchase cancel-able accommodations whenever possible.  Hotels will often be a little cheaper if you purchase a guaranteed, no cancellation room. It might be better, though, to pay a little extra so you can cancel up to a day or two before the trip. Money budgeted for meals will not be spent, so that doesn’t have to be refunded.

Some items are not refundable, such as pre-purchased tickets to events or admission to sites. Organized tours and cruises are usually non-refundable. It is wise to purchase travel insurance or use a credit card that offers insurance, in order to be able to get some of your money back.

If you plan to travel and have purchased travel insurance, though, you may not be covered for the coronavirus. Although it has not yet been classified as a pandemic, pandemics are usually excluded from coverage.  If you are afraid to travel because of your concerns, your fear will not be covered by your travel insurance unless you have purchased a “cancel for any reason” policy.

Another financial concern is that if your cruise ship becomes infected, you may be quarantined up to fourteen days – either on the ship, in a secure location, or at your home. How this affects your job may be a concern.

New Policies

Thankfully, many airlines and cruise companies have offered new policies that make cancelling less financially burdensome. The airlines are waiving change fees for certain flights.  If you’ve booked a flight, you might be able to re-book it for a later date. You will have to pay the difference in the fare, but no change fee. Check with your airline first – there will be some restrictions and a few airlines are not offering the waiver.

Cruise Ships Wait in Port

Cruise lines are also offering much easier cancellation policies. Cruises can be cancelled, with the amount you have paid returned as “future cruise credit.” On Norwegian, my cruise line of choice, cancellation can be made up to 48 hours before embarkation with credit that does not expire until December 2022. This is the best policy I’ve seen, but all the cruise lines seem to be offering a similar program.

Will I Cancel?

My travel plans for the next couple of months include two cruises, air travel to see one of my daughters, and a business trip to Minnesota.  I have more travel planned in the months following.

Although I may be going against some recommendations, at this time, I’m still hoping not to cancel. Here’s why – I am not in the age group that is most affected, nor do I have health concerns. The places that I am cruising to first are in areas where there have been no reported cases of COVID-19. I’m not concerned about being quarantined – I will have my work covered while I am away. I will be diligent in practicing sanitary habits while I travel. In addition, I’m hopeful that as the weather warms, the virus will start to die out.

My biggest concern is passing the disease to others. However, I am willing to be quarantined or can easily self-quarantine at my home, if necessary.  I’m considering self-quarantining whether or not there is an outbreak on the ship.

My plans may change, though, depending on the State Department, CDC, the cruise line, or my own concerns.  So much can change in the next few weeks. I am grateful to Norwegian for their new cancellation policy that allows me to wait until almost the last minute to make the decision. I will continue to closely monitor the situation and will update this post if my plans change.

What About You?

Are you planning upcoming travel?  Have you decided whether or not to cancel? What details are influencing your decision?

 

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