COVID-19 has brought the world to a halt. This new strain of coronavirus has been already been confirmed in hundreds of millions of cases around the world and the World Health Organization has declared this a global pandemic.
For travelers, COVID-19 has resulted in many canceled travel plans and is clearly something we will all need to take into consideration moving forward. Our goal is to let you know how to take preventive measures to limit your risk of being infected, provide information about how specific countries are handling the pandemic, and what to do if your travel plans have been affected.
A coronavirus is not a single virus, but actually a family of viruses that were first identified in the 1960s. A coronavirus can include both the common cold virus and as well as more severe diseases such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).
In December 2019, the World Health Organization (or WHO) identified a new type of coronavirus, or a “novel” virus, officially known as COVID-19. Since this is a new strain that hasn’t been previously seen in humans, it makes it easier to transmit as no one has built up prior immunities.
For purposes of this article, we’ll simply refer to this current strain as the coronavirus or virus.
According to WHO, “coronaviruses are zoonotic, meaning they are transmitted between animals and people.” It is not known how the current form of the coronavirus was transmitted to humans officially, and many studies are still being conducted to determine the origins of this strain.
Bottom Line: Per the CDC, coronaviruses are “common in many different species of animals, including camels, cattle, cats, and bats.”
Once humans have been infected, the virus is spread the same way other cold-causing viruses do — through close person-to-person contact. It is spread through the fluids of infected people from coughing and sneezing, by touching an infected person’s hands or face, through particles in the air, or by touching things that infected people have touched.
Unfortunately, it can be spread even without a person exhibiting symptoms since as many as 50% of people are thought to be asymptomatic.
On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared the COVID-19 outbreak as a worldwide health pandemic. 2 days later, former President Trump declared a National Emergency in the U.S. This allowed the government to mobilize additional resources to combat the virus.
In 2022, many countries worldwide and even many states within the U.S. have travel restrictions of some kind in place.
Traveling in the Age of COVID-19
The CDC has recommended that “older adults and people of any age with serious chronic medical conditions should consider postponing nonessential travel to most global destinations.” With the uncertainty of the virus, it is best for everyone to follow these guidelines — not just those at the highest risk.
If you do attempt to travel internationally, there is a strong possibility that you will be quarantined for weeks or expected to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test or completed vaccination. If you are allowed to travel, you might face long lines in order to be tested for symptoms of the virus.
In light of the virus, the TSA has some guidelines, which include basic hygiene suggestions, as well as issuing various medical exemptions (including the allowance of additional hand sanitizer on board).
Many airport lounges, such as select Polaris lounges and United Club locations, have reduced services or have consolidated operations.
U.S. Entry Guidelines
As of December 6, 2021, the CDC requires all air passengers arriving in the U.S. from a foreign country, regardless of vaccination status, to provide a negative COVID-19 test taken within 1 day of departure or proof of having recovered from COVID-19 within 90 days to the airline before boarding the flight to the U.S.
This ruling applies to U.S. citizens/residents and travelers alike, though non-U.S. citizens and non-U.S. immigrants must be fully vaccinated (unless exception criteria are met, like children under 18 years old). This means that if you’re traveling internationally, you must figure out how to get tested abroad prior to flying back to the U.S.
Hot Tip: Testing requirements generally do not apply to domestic flights within the U.S.
On August 6, 2020, the Department of State lifted the Global Level 4 Health Advisory. It noted that “with health and safety conditions improving in some countries and potentially deteriorating in others, the Department is returning to our previous system of country-specific levels of travel advice (with Levels from 1 to 4 depending on country-specific conditions), in order to give travelers detailed and actionable information to make informed travel decisions.”
The U.S. State Department previously had a “Level 4: Do Not Travel” advisory in place in place globally since March 19, 2020. This is the highest level warning that can be given.
U.S. citizens, particularly travelers with underlying health conditions, are advised to not travel by cruise ship.
Airport Screening Procedures
As of September 14, 2020, the CDC no longer screens passengers upon arrival to the U.S., meaning there will be no more need for passengers to be sent to specific airports as previously directed.
BOTTOM LINE:In the U.S., many closures and cancellations are due to state- or county-specific guidance to restrict large gatherings. Be sure to check your local authority for more information.
Airline Cancellations and Waivers
At the beginning of the pandemic, many airlines waived cancellation and change fees. Depending on your carrier, you may still see free cancellations or changes being allowed.
Specific cancellation policies based on dates and locations of travel vary by carrier, so be sure to reach out directly to see if you are eligible or check out our article detailing specific policies at Airline Cancellation Policies Due to Coronavirus (COVID-19) – Everything You Need to Know.
Airlines are also taking preventative measures to slow the spread, including requiring the use of face masks and filling out health questionnaires. Be on the lookout for these new procedures if you are flying.
Bottom Line: The best piece of advice if you’ve booked through any sort of travel agent, Expedia, Priceline, or one of the credit card travel sites is to call the travel agent directly about your booking. You cannot cancel or change your airline booking directly with the airline if booked via a third-party site.
Many airlines have adjusted their minimum requirements to attain elite status, as well as extending elite status through 2022 and beyond.
See our article on Coronavirus (COVID-19): Airline Elite Status Extensions, Changes, and Updates for more details.
Many hotel chains initially waived cancellation fees for reservations at hotels in affected areas. Be sure to check out our article Hotel Cancellation Policies Due to Coronavirus (COVID-19) – Everything You Need to Know that details all of the hotel policies related to COVID-19 changes or cancellations, including those booked through third-party OTA websites and credit card rewards portals.
You may need to call the hotel chain to get the cancellation fee removed. Even if your hotel chain isn’t listed, it is worth it to give them a call to see if they will be able to accommodate you.
Many hotels have adjusted their minimum requirements to attain elite status, as well as extending elite status through 2022 and beyond.
See our article on Coronavirus (COVID-19): Hotel Elite Status Extensions, Changes, and Updates for more details.
Cruise Line Policies and Cancellations
Cruises, in particular, have been hit hard by quarantines and other uncertainty.
Currently, the U.S. Department of State and CDC are recommending that all travelers, but especially older travelers or those with underlying health issues, avoid cruise travel altogether. The CDC has also offered guidance for cruise travel during COVID-19.
In light of this, cruise lines have been changing their policies, waiving change fees, or changing itineraries of cruises to avoid affected areas. Be sure to read our article Cruise Cancellation Policies Due to Coronavirus (COVID-19) – Everything You Need to Know for more information.
Hot Tip: Your bank may have some new lenient policies, too. Check out our detailed post about credit card debt relief and support for more information.
Travel insurance will typically not cover any cancellations due to the coronavirus. This is because an outbreak of a virus is not included under most standard trip cancellation insurance policies. This includes any travel insurance provided by credit cards.
The exception to this is if you are currently stuck under quarantine as some trip insurance will cover this. Others will only cover if you are actually infected with the virus. It’s always best to call your card issuer directly to confirm if you will be covered or not.
Hot Tip: Unless you have opted to get a “Cancel For Any Reason” travel insurance policy, you may be out of luck. Even a CFAR plan will only apply if purchased before the pandemic began.
Even without travel insurance, it may still be worth it to see if prepaid items may be refunded. These would be done at the discretion of your hotel or tour operator, so be sure to call and see if any exceptions can be made.
The best way to prevent the virus is to avoid being exposed to it. Both the CDC and the WHO have some recommendations.
WHO’s standard recommendations to reduce exposure to and transmission of a range of illnesses include:
- Frequently clean hands by using alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
- Use a flexed elbow or tissue when coughing and sneezing to cover your mouth. Throw the tissue away immediately and wash your hands.
- Avoid mass gatherings and maintain distance (approximately 6 feet or 2 meters) from others when possible. This is also known as “social distancing” per the CDC.
- Avoid direct contact with live animals and surfaces they may have touched when visiting live markets in areas currently experiencing cases.
- Stay home and self-isolate even with minor symptoms such as cough, headache, mild fever, until you recover.
- If you have a fever, cough, and difficulty breathing, seek medical attention, but call by telephone in advance if possible and follow the directions of your local health authority.
The CDC advises
you to discuss your travel plans with your healthcare providers, especially if you are an older adult and have any underlying health issues, as you may be at higher risk.
Per the CDC, for confirmed cases of this COVID-19, reported illnesses have ranged from people being mildly sick to people being severely ill and dying. Symptoms usually appear 2-14 days after exposure and can include:
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
Or at least 2 of the following:
- Repeated shaking with chills
- Muscle pain
- Sore throat
- New loss of taste or smell
Most of these symptoms go away after a few days but can spread to your lower respiratory system and cause more serious issues.
Based on CDC guidance, emergency warning signs include:
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
- New confusion or inability to arouse
- Bluish lips or face
If you develop emergency warning signs for COVID-19 get medical attention immediately.
Bottom Line: In most cases, you won’t know whether you have COVID-19 or a different cold-causing virus, such as rhinovirus.
What To Do if You Think You Have COVID-19
Since community spread is prevalent, if you develop some of the common symptoms noted above, please go see your healthcare provider immediately.
Before you go to a doctor’s office or emergency room, call ahead and tell them about your symptoms.
The CDC recommends:
- Avoid contact with others. If you live with others, stay in a separate room, and use a separate bathroom, if possible.
- Avoid traveling while sick, including using local public transportation.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing. Consider using a face mask as well.
- Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds to avoid spreading the virus to others. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available.
- Avoid contact with pets and other animals as there have been confirmed cases in animals, such as cats and dogs.
Hot Tip: TSA is currently allowing up to 12 ounces of hand sanitizer “to be permitted in carry-on bags until further notice.”
The CDC recommends using face masks if you are feeling symptoms of illness or are a healthcare provider. In addition, due to the evidence of asymptomatic transmission, the voluntary use of cloth-based face masks is recommended in places where appropriate distance can’t be achieved, such as grocery stores or pharmacies.
We are not medical professionals, so always discuss all of these items with your healthcare provider.
As of summer 2021, there are 3 vaccines that have been authorized by the CDC for use to prevent COVID-19:
There are also 30 additional vaccines that are in large-scale (Phase 3) clinical trials in progress that may be authorized in the near future, including:
The CDC provided recommendations to federal, state, and local governments about who should be vaccinated first. While the CDC makes recommendations on the order of vaccine distribution, this is ultimately up to each state to distribute. All states are currently offering the COVID-19 vaccine to people ages 5 and older (Pfizer is currently approved for those aged 5 to 17).
How Long Is COVID-19 Detectable in the Body?
The CDC believes at this time that symptoms of COVID-19 may appear in as few as 2 days or as long as 14 after exposure. This is based on what has been seen previously as the incubation period of MERS viruses.
There is additional information that incubation could last longer than 14 days. This is a developing situation.
Canceled flights, conventions, and attractions, along with mandatory quarantines, have led to increasing global uncertainty. We do not know all of the impacts that COVID-19 will have, but one thing is for sure — we have all been impacted.
From a wellness perspective, most of the tips we have given you will help you stay healthy whether or not you are traveling to areas that are currently impacted by the spread of the coronavirus. If you must travel to areas that are feeling the impacts of the virus, take precautions, follow recommendations in your local area, and monitor your health carefully.
All information and content provided by Upgraded Points is intended as general information and for educational purposes only, and should not be interpreted as medical advice or legal advice. For more information, see our Medical & Legal Disclaimers.