Want to get away this Labor Day? Here are some do's and don'ts to evade COVID-19
Packing for your Labor Day getaway? Consider a trip around the block instead, health experts advise, as cases of COVID-19 continue to surge in Illinois and across the country.
"Travel is a risk whether you go to a hot state or any state," Edward Hospital Infection Control and Prevention Medical Director Jonathan Pinsky said.
But if you go, here are ways to reduce your risk, such as skirting states with outbreaks of the respiratory disease.
The Cook County Department of Public Health lists 22 states as virus hot spots and recommends that returning residents and visitors from those locations quarantine for 14 days.
The at-risk states are Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Texas.
After Independence Day, new cases of COVID-19 in Illinois bounced from 862 on July 4 to 1,317 July 10, according to state data.
At Edward Hospital in Naperville, "we did see people come back with infections who had traveled to Texas or Florida," where COVID-19 outbreaks were occurring, Pinsky said.
Illinois also has regions with virus surges, including the Metro East area near St. Louis with an average COVID-19 positive-test rate of 9.6%. For more about localized metrics, check out the Illinois Department of Public Health website.
And before jaunting to the Indiana Dunes or Wisconsin Dells, note the average positive-test rates for Midwestern vacation spots, according to Johns Hopkins University and Medicine Coronavirus Resource Center: 8.9% in Indiana, 18.5% in Iowa, 13.6% in Missouri, 2.5% in Michigan, and 8.8% in Wisconsin. Illinois' rate is 4.5%.
Before Labor Day, AAA typically issues an advisory about gas prices, expected traffic and airport volumes. This year, the organization admits travel now is just plain confusing.
"Questions travelers are asking include if they need to quarantine upon returning home, if rest stops are open, if there are any restrictions at their final destination -- for example, wearing a mask -- if amenities are open or closed at hotels, and the hotel cancellation policies," AAA spokeswoman Molly Hart said.
AAA offers tips, such as gas station locations, cleanliness ratings for hotels and what restaurants are open, on its website at chicago.aaa.com. If you're unsure about cancellation policies, it's a good idea to call your hotel directly; if you used a third-party online booking service, check your reservation confirmation.
Experts say travelers staying at a hotel, motel, cottage or rented home should bring along wipes to clean frequently touched surfaces after checking in.
"Wiping things down is a good idea, but much more important is keeping your distance from other people and wearing a mask," Pinsky said. Infections don't just come from strangers but relatives or friends who may be asymptomatic, he added.
"The most important thing is to avoid crowded areas and wear a protective mask."
If you're flying, using a face covering is essential, physicians say. Most airlines require masks.
Air travel has shrunk. The TSA reports the number of people at checkpoints dropped from 2 million on Sept. 1, 2019, to 516,068 Tuesday.
Finally, is it safe to plunge in the pool or the lake?
"There is no evidence that the virus that causes COVID-19 can be spread to people through the water in pools, hot tubs, or water playgrounds," the U.S. Centers for Disease Control concludes. But pool operators must follow safety guidelines, and tourists should stay 6 feet away from individuals not in their party and wear masks when not in the water, the CDC said.