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Will it be safe to fly and visit family this Thanksgiving? A San Diego doctor weighs in

Many people are anxious to book flights and make travel plans. So, will it be safe?

SAN DIEGO — Courtney Armstrong of La Mesa was planning on visiting family in Florida back in July. It’s a family get-together she looks forward to each year.

“It’s kind of a big deal for my family,” said Armstrong. “They all get together. There’s like 50 of us.”

But then, there was a change of plans.

“This year, COVID kind of got in the way,” said Armstrong. “My brother and sister-in-law actually got COVID. They’re fine and have recovered since the, but it wasn’t worth the risk getting the whole family together and it sucks because I only get to go home once a year.”

Many people have found themselves in Armstrong’s position. With the holidays just a few months away, many are wondering “Will it be safe to fly this Thanksgiving? Should I book a flight now? Will there be a widely available vaccine by November?”

AAA estimated that more than 55 million travelers made plans to kick off the holiday season with a trip of 50 miles for Thanksgiving 2019. So, will this year look different due to COVID-19?

“It’s very hard to speculate what’s going to happen in November,” said Dr. William Tseng of the California Medical Association and the San Diego County Medical Society.

Tseng is also an internal medicine physician at Kaiser Permanente. While the COVID-19 pandemic is everchanging, he said airports, fellow passengers and where they’ve traveled to and from present risk. 

“How do we minimize our risk? How do we make sure that we don’t catch this thing when we’re traveling? So, the best way I can describe it is to control your own environment.”

Tseng shared four tips to “control your environment.”

1). If you can, drive in your own car. You have more control over your own car than an airport or train station full of potentially infected people.

2). Avoid traveling to or from hot spots

3). If you must travel, wear a face covering, wash and sanitize your hands and social distance.

4). Spend as much time as you can outdoors to reduce the chance of transmission.

Tseng thinks it’s ambitious that there will be a widely-available vaccine by November.

“I think chances are very low that that will happen, but I can tell you that we will have our flu vaccine ready in about two or three weeks, so you can get that first,” said Tseng.

Tseng empathized with people wanting to visit family members, especially aging family members that may not be around for many more holiday seasons. 

"It's always nice to be able to travel and get together with family," added Tseng.

Tseng said he uses Zoom to keep in touch with his own parents.

“The last thing you want to do is become an infector and transmit it to your parents,” said Tseng.

As for Armstrong, her holiday plans for the 2020 holiday season are up in the air.

“Right now, it’s not worth the risk,” said Armstrong. “I have a nephew that’s six months old that has asthma and then a grandmother who’s in her late 80s and we all want to come together, but we want them to be there. We’re kind of just waiting to see.”

So, realistically, it's quite unlikely that there will be a COVID-19 vaccine available in time for the holidays and there will be the added stress of flu season. However, controlling your environment can be a step in reducing risk if you must travel.

Full interview:

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