Is it safe to go on a vacation this summer?
Families across the country are grappling with this question as summer nears and coronavirus continues to alter our daily lives, nearly six weeks after states began implementing stay-at-home orders.
The tourism industry has been devastated with major amusement parks such as Disney World closing and cruise lines suspending operations in response to the pandemic. Major cruise lines, such as Royal Caribbean Cruises and subsidiary Celebrity Cruises don't expect to resume operations until June 11.
International travel is also less likely to be a viable option. The federal government still has a travel advisory in place that urges Americans not to leave the U.S. and many other foreign destinations such as Jamaica are requiring visitors to quarantine upon arrival. It's unclear when the travel advisory will expire.
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And footage of mostly empty planes show that Americans are still leery of flying.
Southwest Airlines, for example, says it filled just 6% of its seats in April and doesn't expect the figure to surpass 10% in May.
"The traffic levels are next to zero at this point,'' Southwest CEO Gary Kelly said in an interview on CNBC Tuesday.
Health experts say social distancing will likely be the new normal until there is a vaccine for COVID-19. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, maintains that the earliest a vaccine may be ready is 12 to 18 months.
And the elderly, along with people with underlying conditions such as asthma and heart disease, will continue to be at a higher risk for developing severe complications should they become infected as the country reopens.
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So what should you do if you are determined to take a real summer vacation?
Consider taking a road trip or going camping, suggests Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease physician for Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. He says minimal-contact options like those will be the safest options this summer and ideal for people who want to keep their risk factors low.
And even though state health departments may give the go-ahead to reopen facilities like amusement parks, he says people with underlying conditions should avoid them because they involve more contact with other people and thus, a higher chance of being infected.
“Nothing is without risk and it’s all going to depend on how much risk you want to tolerate," Adalja said.
Cindy Richards, editor-in-chief of TravelingMom.com, said her readers appear to have mixed feelings about taking trips this summer.
Some don't want to leave town until there is a vaccine, while others are eager to take a family road trip or go on a romantic getaway, she said.
Both kinds of trips are still possible, she says.
“It's really about being smart about where you choose," Richards said. "You’re not going to be able to go to the bucket-list places that are crowded.”
So where can you safely go this summer?
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Richards suggests that families consider driving to the nearest state park, forest preserve or beach for a day trip. (President Donald Trump recently said he planned to reopen national parks soon.)
Many parks have been closed during the pandemic so before you make plans, check your destination's website to make sure it will be open when you want to visit and find out which activities are permitted and which services are open.
Wherever you choose to go, experts say families should still practice frequent hand washing, avoid touching their faces and wearing masks on these day trips. In addition, Richards advises packing your own food to avoid contact with food vendors.
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Rent an RV or a beach house and spend the weekend there with your family. Richards said the RVs are also perfect for campground stays.
Airbnb has updated its cleaning requirements for hosts who opt to participate in its Enhanced Cleaning Initiative, including a a minimum of 24 hours between rentals to reduce the chance a guest might encounter any residual viruses. The home-sharing service is also issuing guidance on the best and safest practices for cleansing a residence's various rooms.
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And for those families who feel more comfortable staying at hotels, Richards suggests disinfecting the room, putting the "do not disturb" sign on the door and declining housekeeping.
But if you want to feel comfortable with the sanitation level in your room or vacation rental, you can personally disinfect all the surfaces upon arrival.
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Visit family or try a house swap
Richards said many Americans are considering road trips to visit family members this summer. Others are planning to house-swap with a friend or relative who lives in a different city. This gives people a chance to get away and stay somewhere they feel safe and comfortable, she said.
Tourism experts say outdoor landmarks will be popular this summer. But they urge people to avoid destinations with large crowds.
“The key is to find the place that everyone isn't going to," Richards said.
The Quinn PR firm, a lifestyle public relations agency, polled tourism-industry leaders to compile a list of several family-friendly destinations that might fit the bill. Their suggestions include:
The Catskills Mountains, New York State: Before international travel became cheap, this area, located about two hours northwest of New York City, was a popular destination for families from the five boroughs. It offers both hiking, fishing. The now-classic 1987 film "Dirty Dancing" took place at a Catskills resort, though it was filmed in locations in Virginia and North Carolina. (VisitTheCatskills.com)
Lexington, Kentucky: The Bluegrass State's second-largest city is known for its horse farms and historic bourbon distilleries. It's also a three-hour drive from Nashville, Indianapolis and Columbus, Ohio. (VisitLex.com)
Bristol, Virginia: Located about six hours from Washington D.C, in southwestern Virginia near the Tennessee border, the town is within 20 minutes of adventure destinations such as the Appalachian Trail and and Cherokee National Forest and about two hours from the Smoky Mountains. (DiscoverBristol.com)
Charleston, South Carolina: The town is not far from from major cities like Atlanta and Nashville. It's known for its cobblestone streets, nature preserves, beaches and charming historic district.
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No matter where you go, Richards advised, the key will be to avoid crowds at all costs. This could mean taking a last-minute detour.
"Talk to your kids before you go," Richards said. Tell them, "If we get there and there’s a crowd, we are not going to be able to stay."
Contributing: Dawn Gilbertson, Chris Woodyard, Elizabeth Weise and David Heath, USA TODAY.