What you should know if you are planning a trip in the summer of COVID-19
It used to be that the greatest threat a summer vacation posed was a wily prospector stealing your station wagon and locking your family up in a ghost town jail.
Transport the Brady Bunch to 2020 and their nemesis is COVID-19, with the possibility of infection from packed beaches, crowded hotels and airplanes with unmasked free spirits who cough.
Is a getaway impossible this summer as cases of the virus in the U.S. top 1.8 million as of Sunday?
No, but staying home is safer, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control says, so vacationers need to assess the risks and plan accordingly.
Physician Michael Bauer winces at videos of unmasked hordes mingling at Lake Geneva in Wisconsin on Memorial Day.
"You have to be very careful about the activity you're choosing and look at your own tolerance for risk. Then, make sure you do it safely," said Bauer, medical director at Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital.
Here are some basic guidelines:
• Pick a location not too far from home in case someone falls ill, the CDC recommends.
• Check the infection rate at destinations you might be considering. The Illinois Department of Public Health offers county-by-county totals as do counterparts in Michigan and Wisconsin. Johns Hopkins University is another resource for U.S. COVID-19 data.
• Take time to review county and local tourism websites to see what restrictions might be in place for restaurants and other businesses. Michigan, for example, has a stay-at-home order in effect through June 12.
• Bring gloves and sanitizing cleaners to wipe down frequently used surfaces in your hotel or rental cottage/home.
• Wear face coverings in public and avoid crowded situations where people without masks can spread germs.
• Consider the age of your party. People 60 and older are at higher risk of falling seriously ill and dying from COVID-19; younger kids won't always follow social distancing rules.
Numerous Americans have solved the hunkering down/getting away paradox by renting or buying recreational vehicles, as Tony Mucerino, owner of Hometown RV in Carol Stream, attests.
Among recent customers "was a self-professed germaphobe who wanted a clean environment," Mucerino said.
One-third of shoppers are millennials. "They tell us about how their uncle or aunt or grandparents had an RV that they remember fondly and want to repeat (the experience)," Mucerino said.
Some have long-distance errands like picking up newly adopted dogs out of state or snowbird parents stuck in Arizona or Florida.
"An RV is a way to shelter in place, but the place has wheels," Mucerino said.
Another alternative available at many Illinois state parks is camping, but don't bring friends or assorted relatives as campsites are restricted to immediate households. Concessions are open, but visitor centers are closed, and so are beaches for now.
Can you catch COVID-19 from swimming?
"The virus doesn't like water," Bauer said, so there's a low probability of transmissions from chlorinated pools or fresh water.
But teeming beaches and public pools where patrons aren't practicing physical distancing are petri dishes for spreading the virus, experts warn.
COVID-19-related changes at hotels and motels include contactless check-ins and enhanced cleaning, the American Hotel & Lodging Association reports. And if you're screening hotels for cleanliness, the AAA designates the most pristine with its AAA Inspector's Best of Housekeeping award.
Bauer notes that the greatest risk at hotels isn't from surfaces in the room itself but from crammed common areas. And while that won't happen in rented homes, private owners don't provide the same standards as the hospitality industry, he said.
One more thing
Borders with Canada and Mexico are closed for nonessential travel through June 22 and that could be extended. The CDC currently advises against traveling to other countries.
And, if your passport is expiring -- there's bad news. The U.S. Department of State warns applicants will "experience significant delays of several months" to renew.
Air traffic at O'Hare International Airport dropped by 67% this April compared to the same month in 2019, the Federal Aviation Authority reports. April flights were 74,494 in 2019, and 24,328 this year.