Concerns over COVID-19 remain steady now that the novel coronavirus has spread globally. Protecting yourself and practicing the necessary precautions is still crucial, particularly so for those who still need to travel aboard commercial flights. That said, there are ways to continue to be smart about planning travel, be it domestic or international, and how to protect yourself is crucial.
Here are some helpful guidelines to follow.
Do your research
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Department of State have been updating their travel warnings as the virus continues to spread to regions across the globe. Before planning your itinerary, check the CDC's Health Notices and the State Department's Travel Advisories for any guidance on where – or where not – to visit.
Several airlines and cruise lines have also suspended or altered their service to specific airports and ports of call. Remember to consult with your travel providers to ensure there won't be any changes in service to your destination.
Many U.S. airlines are also extending travel waivers for ticketholders scheduled to fly to coronavirus-affected destinations, allowing them to rebook, or cancel their travel altogether, without incurring additional fees.
The State Department has a Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), which keeps travelers aware of any situation changes.
What to pack
Travel with all necessary travel documentation, including health insurance cards, a press release from AAA recommends. Also, plan ahead by packing extra supplies such as additional doses of medication or clothing in case your trip is delayed due to the outbreak.
Wear a face covering
Amid the global outbreak of the novel coronavirus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended that everyone wear a “cloth face covering” in community settings, “including during travel if they must travel.”
Unions representing flight attendants and pilots have also championed the idea of requiring masks for everyone on board, but there is not a mandate from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for such measures as of yet. Despite this, most major airlines in the U.S. are requiring passengers wear face masks during travel, with some even vowing to start providing them to travelers. That said, some airlines have reportedly instructed crew members to refrain from outright denying a passenger from boarding for not wearing a mask.
Disinfect your plane seat
Coronavirus can be spread person to person. To minimize your risk while flying, make sure to properly clean your plane seat by using using a pack of antibacterial wipes with alcohol to wipe down everything in your personal area, including the tray table, armrests, seatbelt handle, air vents and call buttons. Disinfecting these "high touch" areas is a surefire way to fight germs, according to Ohio State University infectious disease specialist Debra A. Goff, Pharm.D., who spoke with Reader’s Digest. The same cleaning practice can be applied to train or bus seats.
A 2018 study of aircraft cleanliness further suggested that seats’ headrests may be the germiest surfaces on the plane, with some testing positive for E. coli bacteria — so you may want to invest in a reusable seat cover that can be placed over your seat, and then thrown it in the wash after use.
Be careful what you touch
Respiratory illnesses, like coronavirus, generally spread through contact with an infected person’s saliva or mucus. Droplets from a sneeze or cough can land on surfaces and potentially infect a nearby passenger sharing the enclosed space.
To avoid contact, do not touch shared or potentially germ-ridden surfaces and avoid touching the eyes, nose or mouth before washing your hands. When you are able, wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
You cannot always control your environment while traveling, but you can at least keep your own personal items clean and disinfected to minimize your chances of infection. Always travel with disinfecting wipes and alcohol-based hand sanitizer, if possible, to wipe down surfaces and clean your hands if a sink is not immediately available.
Know the signs
If you do get sick while traveling, it is important to know the signs of coronavirus and seek immediate medical attention if you believe you have contracted the virus.
Symptoms of the pneumonialike illness include fever, cough and shortness of breath. It is important to note, however, that the coronavirus symptoms are common to a number of viruses.
“If you think you may have been exposed, call your health care professional immediately and tell them your travel history. Calling first is important so they can be prepared. Do not go directly to the hospital, where you may infect other people,” Dr. William Schaffner, the medical director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, told Fox News.
Get travel insurance
Finally, consider travel insurance when booking your trip. Though most travel insurances only cover outbreaks in specific instances, having insurance coverage with a “Cancel for Any Reason” policy can help save you some money if you need to cancel your itinerary due to medical reasons or another emergency.
Fox News' Madeline Farber contributed to this report.