The CDC has provided clear guidance about international travel and the risks of COVID-19. Restrictions on non-essential travel apply to certain high risk countries, which currently include China, Japan, Italy, South Korea and Iran.

For other travel, they suggest “routine precautions”:

  • Avoid contact with sick people.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Clean your hands often by washing them with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains 60%–95% alcohol. Soap and water should be used if hands are visibly dirty.

The CDC and WHO are specifically not, at this time, recommending restrictions on travel more broadly.

However, I was listening today to Dr. Anthony Fauci on NBC today. Dr. Fauci is currently head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the NIH and since the 1980’s has been one of our most respected and well known public health officials. He said:

“It’s our responsibility to protect the vulnerable. When I say protect, I mean right now, not wait until things get worse. Say: no large crowds, no long trips, and above all don’t get on a cruise ship.”

He was, of course, speaking of people who are at highest risk of serious illness with COVID-19, but these same considerations might apply to everyone. Just because younger people do better with this infection, doesn’t mean they don’t get sick. Younger people can contract this virus, they can spread this virus, and they can have complications from this virus.

I am writing this now because I know that many people have travel plans in the upcoming 1-2 months, plans that often involve air travel and cruise ships and Disney World. Now may be the time to think carefully about those plans, especially if you belong to one of those more vulnerable populations but even if you might afterwards have contact with a more vulnerable person when you return. I know changing plans can be difficult, especially when it’s something you’ve been planning or looking forward to for some time. And I know it can be costly, as not all purchases are refundable, but under these extraordinary circumstances we are seeing many organizations like airlines and cruise ships wave usual fees when travel plans need to be changed due to coronavirus

If you must travel or attend large crowded events, please take all the precautions you can, including good hand hygiene and social distancing when possible. There is no evidence, it should be said, that wearing paper surgical masks in public prevents healthy people from getting sick, although they can reduce the spread of infection when worn by sick people.

If it were me, however, I would think about changing my travel plans to avoid crowds and close contact. It might be easier to do it now then to wait and see what the recommendations are in a few weeks.