If you’re a parent amidst the coronavirus pandemic, one thing is pretty certain: You could use a vacation.
If your child has already contracted and recovered from the Omicron variant of Covid-19, traveling may actually make sense, says Dr. Maya Shetreat, an integrative pediatric neurologist. Unfortunately, travel is still complicated for many other families.
Children under 5 aren’t yet eligible for Covid vaccines. Thanks to highly-contagious Omicron, more kids are getting sick in the U.S.—there were over 1 million new pediatric cases in a single week in January, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
“We have not seen numbers like this in children since the pandemic began, which is troubling,” says Dr. Gary Kirkilas, a pediatrician at Phoenix Children’s Hospital and spokesperson for the AAP.
Kids are still at low risk for hospitalization, he points out. Dr. Shetreat, who is also the author of The Dirt Cure: Healthy Food, Healthy Gut, Happy Child, also says that most children will likely end up being exposed, no matter what parents do.
At this point, it’s tempting to throw caution to the wind. If you’re considering taking a trip in the midst of the omicron surge, here are a few things doctors want you to keep in mind.
Consider Your Mode of Travel
Some forms of transportation are riskier than others, Dr. Shetreat says. “Air travel is a more intensive exposure due to potential crowds in airports and on crowded airplanes, and being in close quarters with many people for extended periods of time,” she says. If you make like it’s 2020 and rent an RV or take a road trip, it’s easier to limit your exposure
Vaccinate if You’re Eligible
Vaccinated people are less likely to transmit the virus to others. It’s important for parents and children over 5 to get shots—and boosters— as soon as possible in order to protect each other as well as younger family members, says Dr. Daniel Boyer, a researcher at Farr Institute. “Vaccination is the safest way of managing the virus, as it reduces the chance of getting and spreading the virus.”
Monitor Your Comfort Level
If you’re questioning the wisdom of traveling with younger kids during a surge, it might be a good idea to hold off. “The number of new cases of COVID-19 have been exponential during this omicron wave and there’s a strong likelihood that someone at the terminal or on the plane will have COVID-19 and be contagious,” Dr. Kirkilas warns. “Parents should be aware of the high risk of infection in these often-crowded public places where social distancing is not possible.”
Go All Out with Precautions
If you do decide to travel, Dr. Kirkilas recommends being strict on mask wearing, social distancing and hand washing, especially in crowded public places.
“Opt for direct flights to avoid having to change planes and spend more time in terminals,” he says. “At your destination, look for activities that are outdoors versus indoors and those that put you in less crowded situations.”
Manage Medical Conditions Properly
“Some children living with certain conditions, such as asthma, diabetes or chronic lung disease, may be at an increased risk of experiencing severe complications if they catch the COVID virus,” warns Dr. Boyer. If this is the case for your child, it is best to wait to travel until the surge is over.
Know Your Risk Tolerance
As with any decision parents make about the pandemic, the degree of risk ranges from high to low, not all or none, notes Dr. Andrew S. Handel, assistant professor of pediatric infectious diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital.
“The degree of risk any of us take on is a personal decision, but simple solutions such as masking and avoiding crowded indoor areas make infection much less likely,” he says. Bottom line: The decision to travel or not to travel during any part of this pandemic, is yours to make. If you’re on the fence and are able to postpone your plans until the surge subsides, that may be best for you, especially seeing as cases are finally on the decline.
And, last but not least, know that you are doing great. No one taught you how to parent in a pandemic. We all deserve a pat on the back!