Family Travel and 2019 Novel Coronavirus – Should you go?

Updated 3/4/2020: 

  • There is now a total of 92,943 reported cases of COVID-19 globally, and 3,160 deaths, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). You can track the illness via an interactive map HERE.
  • WHO continues to encourage those who are not ill, or who are not frontline healthcare workers, not to purchase masks, as they are needed for these two groups. 
  • An excellent video offers further insight into what experts know about the 2019 Novel Coronavirus, and some interesting science behind the illness. Watch it HERE.
  • For the latest information regarding travel advisories, check the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website.

The 2019 Novel Coronavirus (or COVID-19) is a fast-changing, complex and confusing illness sweeping the globe at a rapid rate. In light of new travel restrictions, and with so much uncertainty, should families travel? 

Note that the individuals in this graphic are wearing N95 masks. Also note that is it not proven yet that this strain of coronavirus is particularly dangerous to  children, but kids DO have a lower resistance to all diseases, like influenza (cough, cough, get a flu shot…)~EK (Image courtesy

With Alaska’s spring break set to begin in a week, here’s what we know today, February 29, 2020: 

  • The 2019 Novel Coronavirus is so-named for its discovery in December, 2019 in Wuhan City, within the Hubei Province of China. It caused a severe pneumonia among hundreds of people, and quickly spread beyond the city to other places in China. 
  • In the weeks since, the COVID-19 has winged its way around the world, probably transmitting itself through direct contact, but that is now not known for certain. 
  • There are now 85,000 confirmed cases of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus globally, with over 2,900 deaths. 
  • Northern Italy and South Korea joined the likes of Japan and China today in the President’s advisory “Do Not Travel” list for Americans. However, the State Department website does not yet list these restrictions. 
  • The United States has experienced its first death from the virus; a resident of Washington state. 
  • Everyone, it seems, is confused, and wondering if it’s time to start 1) hoarding food and water, or 2) panicking. (Spoiler: Please do not to either). 

What is the 2019 Novel Coronavirus, anyway? 

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and the World Health Organization (WHO), coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are common in people and many different species of animals, including camels, cattle, cats, and bats. They can cause mild to severe symptoms ranging from the common cold to the deadly MERS and SARS illnesses experienced several years ago. Classified as a respiratory illness, COVID-19 causes fever, a dry, hacking cough, and shortness of breath. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death. The incubation period for this brand of coronavirus appears to be anywhere from two-14 days (and even that seems to be changing by the hour).  

How do you catch a coronavirus? 

At this time, it is thought the 2019 Novel Coronavirus is spread person-to-person, through direct contact: Coming into close contact (less than six feet) with an infected person; or through respiratory droplets when an infected person sneezes or coughs. People who are symptomatic (i.e. currently sick) are thought to be most infectious; but the medical community is still undecided if people can be infectious before symptoms appear. Same goes for the virus’ staying power on surfaces. Its survival duration is not entirely known. Those individuals with pre-existing conditions, and the elderly, are at highest risk for complications from the coronavirus. 

We’re supposed to head out on vacation soon; should we just stay home? 

Not necessarily. While some places like China, South Korea, northern Italy, and Iran have restrictions for Americans (and residents of other countries as well), it is a tougher call to know whether travelers should stay or go to other destinations. Here’s what is recommended: 

  • Consider your destination. Know the places currently on the travel restriction list. Find it HERE
  • Consider your health. If you are ill, do not travel. “Ill” means fever, cough, vomiting, diarrhea. This includes the kids. Especially kids, who are prone to touching things and then their mouths. 
  • Get a flu shot. While it won’t prevent 2019 Novel Coronavirus, experts say, it will make diagnoses easier if you do become sick, and keep you healthier overall. 
  • Stay six feet from other people. Yo, get out of that pre-boarding queue at the airport or train station. Reconsider the trip to Disney (sorry, Mouse), where lines and crushes of people are all but guaranteed. Sometimes called “social isolation,” it can go a long way toward preventing contact with sick people. 
  • Wash your hands. Frequently. As in: When you enter a new place, before you eat anything, after using the bathroom (tip: use a paper towel to open bathroom doors after you’ve washed your hands). Wash for 25 seconds (sing “Happy Birthday”).  Can’t wash using soap and water? Use hand sanitizer that is 60% alcohol or greater. 
  • Wipe down all surfaces with disinfecting wipes. I carry them on the plane and wipe down the seat, the armrests, the vents, the tray — pretty much anything in my space. Make sure your kids do, too. Wipe down your phone, a few times in fact, during your flight. As soon as you get off the plane, head to the restroom and wash your hands with soap. I also do this as soon as I arrive in a hotel. Make it a habit.
  • Don’t touch your face, and don’t let your kids, either. “Face” means: eyes, mouth, ears, and yes, noses. Don’t pick your nose, folks. And if you catch the kids doing it, wipe down the surface upon which they wiped that booger. Yep. You do NOT need to wear a mask unless you are sick. 1) Masks commonly worn in public places do little to prevent droplets from reaching your nose and/or mouth. 2) The type of mask you’ll need, an N95, must be specifically fitted to your face and worn correctly for effective infection control. Do health care workers (who need them most) a favor, and leave the supplies to them. 
  • Consider travel insurance. While not always effective in the event of pandemics, some policies may help offset costs of cancelled travel. Find some options, HERE. If you decide to cancel flights, Alaska Airlines announced it will waive fees through March 12, 2020, and other airlines are following suit. Read about it HERE. I anticipate more will do so in the coming days if the virus continues its rampage. 

The bottom line? Go if you are comfortable doing all of the above. Pay attention to alerts and updates on a daily basis. Ultimately, however, your family’s health is your business, and no one can refute that. 

Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO



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