COVID-19: Utah and Holiday Travel

The holiday season typically brings a frenzy of travel activity as families reunite or take long-awaited vacations. But will COVID-19 ruin everyone’s plans? Here are some things you should know before packing your suitcase.
utah and holiday travel

Should you travel?

Many people wonder whether it’s safe to travel at a time when the virus is surging in many parts of the country – including Utah. The CDC makes it clear that traveling increases your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19 and recommends avoiding non-essential travel.

This is especially important if your destination is a hotbed for the virus, or if you’re departing from an area where case counts are high. Even without symptoms, you and those you travel with (including children) may spread COVID-19 to others.

Consider postponing or canceling your travel plans if:

  • You live with someone in the high-risk category (e.g., older adults or people with chronic medical conditions).
  • You fall into the high-risk category yourself.
  • The area you’re visiting has a high number of cases.
  • Your travel is non-essential.

Do NOT travel if:

  • You are sick (even with negative COVID test results).
  • You or someone in your family has been exposed to another person with COVID-19 in the previous 14 days.

How to keep yourself and others safe

If you do travel during the holiday season, you’ll want to take extra precautions to protect yourself and others. Here are some recommendations from the CDC and the Utah Department of Health.

  • Practice social distancing as much as possible and wear a cloth face covering if you can’t social distance.
  • Wash your hands often and use hand sanitizer (with at least 60% alcohol) if handwashing isn’t available.
  • Avoid touching handrails, door handles, elevator buttons, and other high-touch surfaces as much as you can. Bring disposable disinfecting wipes to clean high-touch surfaces.
  • Make sure hotels, restaurants, and other public venues are taking steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in their business.
  • Avoid contact with anyone who is sick.
  • Do not touch your eyes, nose, and mouth.

What about college students returning home from school?

Though you may not have any travel plans, you’ll want to be particularly careful if you have a college student returning home for the holidays. Intermountain Healthcare infectious disease expert Eddie Stenehjem, MD, explained the risks involved with this age group.

“If you look at our demographics of infection here in Utah, the 15- to 24-year-olds are the highest,” he said.

Some people try to solve the problem by testing their son or daughter for COVID before they get in the house – but Stenehjem warns that isn’t always effective.

“All the test tells you is that they're negative at that point in time. It doesn't tell you whether or not they turn positive in the next day or the next day,” he said. “So it really has to be something that's discussed and talked about amongst the family.”

Having students come home early to quarantine is one way parents are coping with the risks posed by this age group. Others choose to distance themselves from at-risk groups – such as grandparents – while their college students are home.

As with most things, you’ll have to assess the risk and do what you feel is best for the health and safety of your family.

Traveling through Utah

Even if you’re planning a “staycation” this year, you’ll still want to be careful.

“The transmission rate right now in Utah is so high that you have to assume, if you're coming into contact with other people outside of your immediate family, you are at high risk for being exposed to this virus,” said Stenehjem.

If you do decide to travel throughout Utah, the state recommends that you:

  • Research and understand CDC Guidelines.
  • Avoid large crowds by getting off the beaten path.
  • Support local businesses that have been adversely affected by the pandemic.

Avoid high-risk activities

Whether you’re staying home or traveling abroad this holiday season, keeping everyone as safe as possible should be a top priority. Here’s a list of activities that can increase your risk of exposure to COVID-19:

  • Visiting areas with high levels of COVID-19. (You can check Travel Health Notices for more information.)
  • Attending large social gatherings (e.g., weddings, funerals, parties).
  • Being in crowded public places (e.g., sporting events, concerts, restaurants, airports, movie theaters).
  • Traveling on a cruise ship or riverboat.

If you are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, it’s important to get tested as soon as possible. Find a testing location near you.