The novel coronavirus pandemic has complicated two pillars of Pacific Northwest summers: out-of-town guests and road trips.
In summers past, the biggest concern about house guests has been how long is too long for them to stay and finding fresh sites for them to see. Now people must consider how to safely put up loved ones while reducing the risk of contracting COVID-19.
The carefree road trip also is no longer so simple. The biggest concerns before were where to stop for food or restrooms, but now travelers must think about ventilation in the car, face coverings and who has been doing what in the weeks leading up to the trip.
For this week’s FAQ Friday, we have answers to questions about these summer activities during the pandemic.
Last week’s FAQ about testing data and neck gaiters can be found here. If you have questions you haven’t seen addressed in The Seattle Times’ coverage, ask it at st.news/coronavirus-questions or via the form at the end of this article.
What cleaning, masking and distancing guidance should you follow when out-of-state friends or relatives come to stay in the house?
The first and most important thing to do is to have a conversation with everyone living in the host home to make sure they are comfortable bringing people into their circle, said Dr. Paul Pottinger, professor of infectious disease at the University of Washington School of Medicine.
“By far the most important step that a family could take if they were going to bring guests in from outside their household is to have an explicit, organized conversation,” he said. “It’s about communication.”
If a guest is older than 60 or is in a high-risk category, the hosts have to make sure they are truly up for doing what needs to be done to keep that person safe. This means being diligent with social distancing, wearing a face covering when leaving the house, washing your hands and cleaning high-touch items like your cellphone when returning to the house, Pottinger said.
How the guests arrive also matters. The risk of them being exposed to SARS-CoV-2 while driving is much lower than if they fly or take a train.
In addition to discussing the mode of travel, guests should let their hosts know where they have been and who they have been in contact with the two weeks before their arrival, Pottinger said.
“If someone is coming into a household from out of town traveling by air, our guidance would actually be to say that for 14 days that they should do their greatest job of physical distancing,” he said.
When people visit, especially if it is someone there for dinner and not part of the household, it’s best to be outside, Lindsey Leininger, a health policy researcher and clinical professor at Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business told The New York Times.
“Outside is really key,” she said. “We know that being indoors can be a risk factor for something going quite wrong,” even with just a few guests.
If the guests drove, have been careful and haven’t been exposed to the virus during the previous two weeks, there isn’t a need to distance for two weeks upon arrival, wear masks or clean differently from what is normally done in the house, Pottinger said.
How safe is it to travel in a car with other people, especially if everyone is masked and the windows open?
Car trips are nice for summer getaways because you are for the most part in control of the environment and who you ride with, unlike on an airplane or train.
Before hitting the road there are some things to consider, the first being the destination.
Dr. Kathy Lofy, the state health officer with the Washington Department of Health (DOH) suggests travelers stay close to home by visiting places within the county where you live and avoid counties that are in a different phase in Gov. Jay Inslee’s Safe Start reopening plan.
“We definitely do not want people traveling across the state and spreading disease around the entire state,” she said.
Before getting in the car, everybody needs to make sure they are feeling well, don’t have a fever or any respiratory symptoms, coughs, sneezes or body aches. If anyone has symptoms, the trip should be canceled, Pottinger said.
If you and your trip mates are symptom-free and have had a conversation about where and with whom they have been the past 14 days, then the trip can proceed.
“Everyone should clean their hands when getting into the car, of course, alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water, everyone should be masked and copious airflow in the car really makes a difference,” Pottinger said.
There are a couple options for good airflow on the road.
Open windows are the best, but a climate control system that pulls in fresh air at a high setting can also work, especially if the windows are at least partially rolled down, Pottinger said.
“A mask dramatically reduces transmission risk and having good exchange of fresh air in the environment, even in a tiny compartment like a car, dramatically further reduces transmission,” he said.
Information from The Seattle Times archive was included in this report.