Qing Yang and Kevin Parker
| Special on the State Journal Register

We greeted 2022 with a bitter wave of the highly contagious, if less deadly, Omicron variant. Like millions of Americans, disappointment at the cancellation of vacation plans has weighed on our spirits again, but we feared inadvertently spreading the virus to vulnerable family members.

But Qing and I vowed to remain hopeful and vigilant. We decided to use this holiday to make new memories by taking a short break in Europe. One of our colleagues was visiting a family in Asia and another was hosting visitors from abroad. No journey is risk-free, but we believe it is possible to travel safely.

Here are some tips from our own personal experiences and what we’ve learned from others.

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budget for uncertainties

Air travel this winter is being hampered by the twin threats of weather and airline staff shortages. Expect cancellations and delays, but don’t fret. Book a direct flight if available and allow time between flights if there is a connection. Airlines will help you find the best alternatives and rebook for free, but this may mean departing from or arriving at a different airport.

At the end of your downtime, allow for a few days of cushion in case your return plans are disrupted or you need to quarantine. Currently the CDC recommends 5 days of isolation for COVID-positive patients and for unvaccinated people who have been exposed to COVID.

Test before and after

Travel to Hawaii and most international destinations including Canada requires a negative COVID test. Check the requirements of both the airline and the country or territory government – they may differ in the type of tests accepted and how long before departure or arrival you need to take the test.

We find drugstores to be the most convenient for testing, with quick results and no extra cost. But you need to plan ahead as they often book up a week in advance. We do not recommend going to the emergency room or emergency care for travel testing as these resources should be reserved for symptomatic patients.

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To re-enter the US by air, you must present a negative test within one day of departure. In developed countries, pharmacies, laboratories, hospitals and airports offer inexpensive tests. We also think it is advisable to have a post-test 3-7 days after returning from your trip to rule out previously false negative results or exposure during transit.

vaccination requirements

An indoor vaccine mandate is common abroad, similar to US cities like New York, Boston and DC. The European Union and 33 other countries have created a digital certificate to track the vaccination and testing status of their citizens. The personalized QR code (referred to as “COVID Passport” or “Green Passport”) allows the holder to enter public spaces such as museums and restaurants and to move freely in the Schengen area. The programs we use, such as SMART Health Card, Healthvana and CLEAR, are not built into theirs and there is no easy way to convert them. It is therefore important that you always have your paper vaccination card with you when you travel. Save an image in your phone as a backup.

protection during the trip

Masking is mandatory, according to the “mask police” stationed at popular tourist attractions. Recent studies suggest that high-quality masks like N95 and double masking work better than cloth masks, and the CDC is updating its recommendations for containing omicron transmission.

While all airlines are required to mask on planes, planes are equipped with highly efficient particulate air filters that remove viruses and bacteria from the circuit. High-risk encounters occur in airport terminals – when queuing at the gate or at immigration, where social distancing is rarely observed. In addition to masks, hand sanitizers, disposable gloves and disinfecting wipes are useful additions to your travel gear.

We were able to enjoy a wonderful holiday and return without getting sick by pre-planning the necessary tests and paperwork, wearing appropriate protection, avoiding crowded areas whenever possible and being flexible. As we know, the pandemic is evolving. Policies, requirements and restrictions change daily. One of the most important lessons we’ve learned over the past two years is how to deal with uncertainty. The coronavirus is raging, but that doesn’t mean we have to put life on hold because of it.

Qing Yang and Kevin Parker are a married couple living in Springfield. dr Yang received her medical degree from Yale University School of Medicine and completed her residency at Massachusetts General Hospital. She is an anesthetist with HSHS Medical Group. Parker has helped formulate and manage public policies in various city and state governments across the country. He was formerly Group Chief Information Officer for Education at the Illinois Department of Innovation and Technology. This column is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The opinions are those of the authors and do not reflect the views of their employers.