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Traveling with Kids During COVID-19

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Summer is almost here—and you’re probably eager to hit the road.

Great news: The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration have approved the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 12- to 15-years old and the vaccine’s efficacy is 100 percent for that age range. Parents can register their children here.

Also, fully vaccinated people can go mask-less indoors and outdoors in most settings, according to the CDC.

Despite this progress, it’s important to remain diligent about following CDC guidelines. Kids make up 22 percent of new COVID cases and tend to be asymptomatic, says Alexis Phillips-Walker, DO, pediatrician at Children’s Memorial Hermann Pediatrics Atascocita.

Here’s what you should keep in mind to stay healthy with kids on the road:

Plan Ahead

Get vaccinated if you can before your vacation. Vaccines are more effective if you receive both doses, with the last one being at least 2 weeks before your trip.

When choosing destinations, she says, “avoid places with spikes in COVID-19 cases. Also avoid those that are overcrowded or don’t follow safety guidelines.”

If possible, drive rather than fly. And minimize travel, especially internationally, advises the CDC.

The agency is preferred for your first source of travel-safety information, then the airline and then reliable news sources, Dr. Phillips-Walker says. Check the CDC travel website for updated precautions before making plans. “Things can change day to day,” she adds.

Airlines may require pre-testing for passengers depending on the destination of travel. Some airlines, including United, offer scheduling onsite. Some resorts test onsite as well.

Don’t travel if anyone in your family or group has a high fever, chills, cough or other signs of COVID-19.

On Vacation

The same cautions at home apply on the road. When you eat out, dine outdoors, if possible. Also wash hands frequently, and wear masks, if not fully vaccinated or the setting requires, and social distance more than 6 feet among those outside your household.

“Try not to be complacent because we’re still in the middle of a pandemic,” she says. “But it’s OK to go and have a good time.”

Masks are required if you travel by plane, train, bus or other forms of public transportation into, within or out of the United States. They’re also compulsory at airports, train and bus stations and other U.S. transportation hubs. Masks also may be mandatory in public spaces, including restaurants, museums and cinemas.

Children above age 2 must wear masks on planes.

Don’t travel unless your children are able to follow the rules. “Even young children will understand if you explain there’s an illness going around and you have to do things to stay safe and healthy,” Says Dr. Phillips-Walker.

People who are immunocompromised—due to cancer, diabetes or chronic kidney lung or heart disease—should not travel, even if fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.

Bring extra paper masks, wipes, travel-size sanitizer and disposable covers for public restroom changing pads. Pack them where they’ll be easily accessible, such as an exterior pocket of your diaper bag, for emergencies.

“The more things that are disposable, the better,” Dr. Phillips-Walker says. An exception is the beach, where cloth masks are better. Bring spares for each child.

Your Return Home

According to the CDC, fully vaccinated travelers do not need to get a SARS-CoV-2 viral test before or after domestic travel, unless testing is required by the airline or other public transportation.

Nor do the fully inoculated need to self-quarantine after their return, unless they have high fever, coughs or other symptoms of COVID-19.

All air passengers coming to the United States, including U.S. citizens, are required to have a negative COVID-19 test result or documentation of recovery from COVID-19 before they board a flight to the United States.

International air travelers, even if fully vaccinated, must have a negative viral test result or proof of recovery from COVID-19 before boarding a flight home. You should get tested 3 to 5 days after travel, even if fully inoculated.

You also should check whether your mode of transport or your destination demands testing, and whether your age or vaccination status matters.

You can learn in advance about such dictates and whether nasal swabs or saliva tests are used, Dr. Phillips-Walker says.

“If anyone in your family tests positive, you run the risk of being stuck until they recover, so consider buying travel insurance,” she says.

While the fully vaccinated don’t have to quarantine, the unvaccinated—including kids—must.

The CDC says the unvaccinated, including adults, should get a viral test 3 to 5 days after traveling. Those who test negative should self-quarantine for a full week.

Those who don’t get tested or who test positive should isolate themselves for 10 days.

Daycare and schools may have even stricter rules, Dr. Phillips-Walker says.

Ask in advance about their testing rules and leave a time buffer between the end of vacation and start of classes. “Some schools make children quarantine 10-14 days if they test positive for COVID-19. Some require quarantining if a child traveled to a high-risk area,” she says. “I recommend having your children checked with a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test before sending them back to daycare or school.”

Also, avoid being around people who are at increased risk for severe illness for 14 days, whether you get tested or not.

The information in this article was accurate as of May 17, 2021.

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