Foss: Traveling in a pandemic

The writer's father and son on the beach in Maine.
The writer's father and son on the beach in Maine.

Categories: News, Opinion, Schenectady County

I got tested for COVID-19 on a Monday afternoon, got my result – negative – on Wednesday morning and was on the road to Maine within the next few hours. 


Public health experts say that traveling during a pandemic is a bad idea, and I’m generally inclined to agree. 

There’s ample evidence that travel from COVID-19 hot spots to other parts of the country fuels outbreaks, and research has found that travel from New York City became the primary source of infections around the U.S. this spring, causing outbreaks in Louisiana, Texas, Arizona and the West Coast.

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I’ve been pretty cautious about travel as a result, canceling all of the trips I had planned for the year with one exception: a weeklong stay in my parents’ house near the coast of Maine. 

Travel will never be without risk in a pandemic, but there are ways to minimize risk, and I set about planning what I hoped would be a safe and healthy trip. 

It was important, I felt, to travel before my son returned to daycare and the number of people he came into contact with increased. 

It was also important to make sure I was healthy, which is why I continued social distancing in the weeks leading up to the trip and took a COVID-19 test shortly before our departure. And, finally, it was important to know that the people we would be seeing on the trip – my parents and sisters, namely – were also being careful: sticking close to home and wearing masks when they went out. 

My vacations in Maine have always been low key, and the pandemic made my recent trip even more low key than usual. 

Our days revolved around trips to the beach, playing in the yard, naptime and the occasional walk on a nature trail. 

We opted to forego our annual dinner out at the Clambake Seafood Restaurant in Old Orchard Beach, instead ordering fried and steamed clams for pick-up.

And while I did meet up with an old friend who was camping nearby, I wasn’t able to visit her at her campground, which had barred visitors. Instead, she came to my parents’ house and we chatted outside, seated in chairs I set up on the front lawn. 

One thing I learned is that the beach is actually a pretty safe place to be, provided it isn’t a spring break-type environment with people crowded together, building human pyramids and spitting beer in each other’s faces. 

I’m happy to report that I found it very easy to social distance on the beach – to sit, walk and swim without coming in close contact with anyone else. (Of course, the chilly ocean temperature and sometimes dense fog has always been good for keeping crowds at bay.) 

As Zeyneb Tufecki wrote in The Atlantic magazine, “… one can hardly imagine a comparatively safer environment than a sunny, windy ocean beach. It’s not that there is any activity with absolutely zero risk, but the beach may well be as good as it gets – if people stay socially distant, which is much easier to do on a big beach.” 

It’s also, I should add, much easier to do at low tide than high tide. 

I returned home late last week, as worries about out-of-state visitors causing New York’s infection rate to tick upward are emerging. 

On Monday, officials in both Albany and Montgomery counties expressed concerns about travelers from hot spots, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that travelers flying into New York from areas with high rates of coronavirus infections will be required to fill out forms disclosing their travel plans, or face a $2000 fine. 

A recent CNN article asked “Is the summer road trip spreading the coronavirus?” and observed that “Americans are taking more long trips than they were before the pandemic struck – a trend that has experts concerned these travelers could spread the virus.” 

These concerns are certainly valid. 

But rather than discourage people from traveling, I’d encourage people to consider how to travel more safely. 

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Flying right now is risky, but short road trips, to regional destinations, can be made relatively safe. Bars, theme parks and other crowded places are best avoided, but beaches, trails and other outdoor places can offer a much-needed respite from the non-stop stress of living through a pandemic. Large parties and gatherings are ill-advised, but getting together with a small, select group of people is still a possibility.

I’m glad I took a vacation, and I’d encourage others to do the same. 

But I’d also urge caution, planning and thoughtfulness, because COVID-19 is still very much with us, and will be for the forseeable future.

Reach Sara Foss at [email protected] Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s.

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