How to leave a coronavirus hot spot safely and reduce the risk of spreading the virus
- New York City is a hot spot for Covid-19 cases, but smaller communities face their own challenges, which is why health experts advise people to avoid travel.
- The best way to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus is to stay put but if you must travel here's how to do it safely: Use private transportation, practice diligent hygiene, and self-quarantine for 14 days once you arrive at your destination.
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If you live in a place like New York where coronavirus cases are rising rapidly, it's tempting to want to leave. Some are already doing so.
But health organizations and experts will tell you this is a terrible idea.
"Traveling to other cities will only increase the spread of infection. No part of the country is immune," Ubydul Haque, an epidemiologist at the University of North Texas Health
His comments echoed Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who has warned that a person leaving New York might become patient zero in their new destination.
But for those facing extenuating circumstances who must leave, Haque offered the following advice:
- Use private travel and avoid public transportation. New York City is the most densely packed city in the US, with 28,000 residents per square mile. Its mass public transit system and close quarters undoubtedly helped spread the novel coronavirus. So if yours is one of the 45% of households in New York that own a car, drive out of the city.
- Disinfect everything and use gloves at gas pumps. While on the road, Haque said, disinfect your luggage and minimize contact with anyone. Use disposable gloves, especially at gas pumps, which - like other frequently touched surfaces - can harbor bacteria and viruses for a long time.
- Self-quarantine. When you get to your destination, self-quarantine yourself and any others who traveled with you. New York, for example, has such a high infection rate that the White House has officially asked that anyone who has left the city - whether they lived there or were visiting - to self-quarantine for 14 days. But even if you're not fleeing New York, self-quarantine is a good practice since even asymptomatic carriers of the COVID-19 virus can infect others for up to 14 days.
As for how long you should wait before packing your bags, Haque has this advice: "If I was going to leave, I would have left a long time ago. It's probably too late now."
Why you should stay put
In addition to the possibility that you may spread the novel coronavirus, there are other reasons for why you should stay put.
"The local infrastructure, especially the health-care infrastructure, is not prepared for the influx of part-time residents," Governor Phil Murphy tweeted. "Please stay at your primary residences."
Many vacation communities across the country, from Lake Tahoe to the Hamptons, have seen skyrocketing surges in rentals in March and April as schools close and people evacuate to more sprawling areas. But the Lake Tahoe Visitor Authority, which generally encourages tourism, asked people to stay home, as has the Jersey Shore community.
While big-city residents are at a greater risk of catching the disease, those big cities have more resources for handling cases. The rural south reportedly may be "fertile ground" for coronavirus due to a lack of health infrastructure and high rates of poverty. Sometimes smaller hospitals even stabilize patients and then send them to big cities for better or more specialized care.
Moreover, staying put is how other countries have fought the spread. Haque recently collaborated on a study that found that a lockdown in Malaysia successfully reduced the spread of the novel coronavirus. There are also signs that the two-month lockdown in Wuhan, China, has helped curb further spread.
The CDC and World Health Organization haven't issued guidelines about whether people should or should not leave hotspots for the coronavirus pandemic. However, the organizations have suggested that, in general, people should stay home and only travel when necessary, such as for food and medical emergencies.
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