Q: Is it safe to travel for the holidays?

A: As I'm sure you've seen, we are seeing an increase in cases of COVID-19 both nationally and locally. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now recommends that "staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others from COVID-19." I would have to say that I agree with that recommendation and would suggest that this year a small celebration of Thanksgiving with the other members of your household would be the safest way to enjoy the holidays.

However, if you do need to travel, there are ways to decrease your risks. First you should always remember the first principles of infection control: Wear a mask at all times when around others; keep your distance of at least 6 feet from people outside your household; continue to observe good hand hygiene; and, if you are sick or have been exposed to COVID-19 in the last 14 days, you should not travel at all.

If you are in a high-risk category for complications of COVID-19, you should also seriously consider not traveling. College students coming home should be considered to be non-household members and treated accordingly.

A few general safety tips would be:

* The first step in planning travel is to look at the information on the virus at your planned destination. The greater the prevalence of disease there, the greater your risk. The state or county website at your destination should have that information.

* You also want to check on the health regulations at your destination. For example, anyone traveling to Hamilton County should be aware of our mask directive.

* Try to keep your trip as short as possible with as few stops as possible. Pack a lunch rather than stop for food.

The CDC offers further information and helpful links at: These include:

* Consider your mode of travel. Car travel with your immediate household members is safest. Again, minimize your stops.

* Air travel risks primarily include airports and layovers. Airliners generally have very good ventilation, and if everyone is masked and distancing is attainable, then the air time itself is less of a concern than the time spent in security lines and crowded airports. Try to take direct flights.

* Bus and train travel and other public transportation is definitely a higher-risk situation due to difficulty with distancing and long periods of time in enclosed spaces.

* RVs are similar to cars in that traveling with household members is low-risk, but stops and RV parks can be problematic.

* Cruise ships and riverboats are also considered high risk.

Remember that when you arrive at your destination, you should follow the same precautions you would follow with any public situation: Wear masks, maintain distance and practice good hygiene whether it's a hotel or private home you're visiting. Avoid crowds and mass gatherings such as sporting events or parades. Again, I should emphasize that my best recommendation this year is to stay home and enjoy a safe and healthy holiday season with your close family.

Paul Hendricks, M.D., is the Hamilton County Health Department health officer and a member of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Medical Society.

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Contributed Photo / Dr. Paul Hendricks