With much of Washington in Phase 2 or beyond, limited nonessential travel is now allowed. However, keep public-health guidelines in mind when deciding whether to travel. Before you go anywhere, it’s always a good idea to check https://doh.wa.gov/Emergencies/Coronavirus for updates on coronavirus in Washington state. This collection of stories is meant to help you plan getaways based on current coronavirus conditions in the state and the region. But if new restrictions are enacted, tuck it away for later!
The summer is upon us. After months of following Gov. Jay Inslee’s stay-at-home order to combat the spread of COVID-19, many people are eager to reenter the outside world and take some short vacations. But while we all need to get out sometimes, it’s prudent to remember that we’re still amid a pandemic, and that King County is only in Phase 2 of Inslee’s four phase plan to reopen the state.
All travelers should keep these considerations in mind when planning the next journey out from wherever you’ve been hunkered down — but of course, if you’re still uncomfortable with venturing out, the simplest way to make sure you’re not exposed to the coronavirus is just to stay home.
Following the rules, phase by phase
It’s vital to pay attention to the guidelines for whatever phase your county and the ones you are traveling through and traveling to are in. Always follow the guidelines for each phase. What recreational activities and businesses are open depend on a county’s progress through these stages.
While places in your county might be starting to open up, Visit Seattle’s Ali Daniels said it’s still important to consult with regional guidelines for every destination you have in mind.
“Everyone’s kind of inching their way through at their own speed,” she said. “People are excited, but it really is important to be aware and respectful of what the rules are.”
Stick close to home — but don’t let that limit you
Dr. Kathy Lofy, state health officer from the Washington Department of Health, recommends that potential travelers stick closer to home, avoiding interstate destinations and counties that might be in a different phase than your area.
“We definitely do not want people traveling across the state and spreading disease around the entire state,” she said.
No matter the destination, Lofy stressed the importance of following social distancing guidelines, staying 6 feet away from others and wearing a mask in public.
Daniels said there are plenty of opportunities to stay close to home but still have lots to explore, including a range of options in the immediate Seattle area and in nearby state and national parks.
“You can do hikes, you can get on the water, you can be in the park depending on your level of adventure, but also, you have all the benefits of having a city,” she said. “The variety and diversity of options is really great.”
Be mindful of your “bubble”
The recommendation has been given over and over again, but that’s because it’s a good one: This summer really is the summer of smaller, often family-focused trips. From a public-health perspective, it’s ideal as travelers get to contain their party instead of running the risk of taking a train or plane.
“Typical travel environments can be hard to trust,” Daniels. “I know it’s overused, but it really is the summer of the road trip.”
But both Daniels and Lofy said it’s just as important to be conscious of keeping the germs you’re bringing into a new environment to yourself. For small towns and rural counties, a sudden influx of visitors can be dangerous and potentially overwhelming to areas with smaller medical capacities.
“The way I think of it is, they’re one superspreader event away from having a communitywide outbreak,” Lofy said.
Embrace the outdoors
Daniels said this summer is a good opportunity for people to explore the natural beauty of Washington state, with social distancing being significantly easier in the wide-open spaces of the outdoors.
“Maybe it’s someplace within your state or within your city that you haven’t explored before,” she said. “I would definitely embrace nature.”
Lofy said that while outdoor activities bring a smaller risk of transmission, it’s still important to wear a mask and keep social distancing recommendations in mind. She said that when she’s walking on the sidewalk and someone comes toward her, she’s sure to walk away to maintain distance, and that visitors to outdoor locations should do the same.
“Even though the risk is lower, it’s not zero,” she said. “People can still infect other people outdoors.”
If you’re at risk, wait for next year
While the elderly, the immunocompromised and other at-risk individuals might especially be itching to leave their surroundings, Lofy said this is not a good idea. She recommended they stay home and continue to limit interactions with others.
“If they decide to travel against our advice, they would want to be incredibly vigilant of all the public-health recommendations we’ve been talking about,” she said.
Preventing spread is the top concern
But there’s always the possibility of a resurgence in cases, Lofy said, and preventing a spread takes top priority over any vacation.
“If everyone goes about their life this summer like they did prior to the pandemic, we are very likely going to see a resurgence in cases and need to shut down businesses again in the future,” she said.