COVID-19 – should you be traveling now?

“be vigilant but not paralyzed. There’s no benefit to come from being scared to the point of never leaving your house. There are contagions out there—whether they’re reported or not—so take appropriate precautions and go about your life.”

Below is an interview between Recommend magazine, a travel counselor publication, and Dr. William Spangler, global medical director with AIG Travel, regarding travel at this time.

Due to the Novel Coronavirus outbreak in China we reached out to Dr. William Spangler, global medical director with AIG Travel to answer a few more questions regarding the epidemic. These might help you better communicate with wary travelers.

Michelle Marie Arean (MMA): So far most of the Coronavirus outbreaks have been in China, however a few have been found in the U.S.—what does this mean for travel within the U.S.? (Further, what does this mean for the safety of U.S. Travelers, and those traveling within the states?)

Dr. William Spangler (DWS): For the time being, travel guidance within the U.S. is very different than in Asia. If you had plans to go to Hubei Province, there is currently a Level 3 warning from the CDC to avoid all non-essential travel there. For travel within the U.S., we’re at Watch Level One, which basically means: stay vigilant, keep away from people who are coughing or showing other outward signs of illness, keep your hands clean and avoid touching your face.

It’s worth noting that, to date, all of the cases diagnosed outside of China are in people who had recently, physically visited China—there have been no secondary infections, in the U.S., as of today. As such, it appears that the risk of person-to-person transfer of this particular virus is low.

MMA: What is the likelihood that this outbreak can reach more U.S. states?

DWS: 100 percent. It’s absolutely guaranteed, and largely because of how easy it is to get in and out of China from the U.S. And Wuhan City has a population of 11 million—people are still going to go there, and return, so we’ll definitely see more cases diagnosed in the States. This doesn’t mean, however, that we’re on the verge of an epidemic in the U.S. The future cannot be known, of course, but we do know that the Chinese government and the World Health Organization are going to extraordinary lengths to keep this outbreak under control. This is a different circumstance than what we experienced with Zika, or Ebola, where we were largely blindsided. Health officials are well aware of this and doing their best to contain it.

MMA: Since our publication is geared to travel advisors what should they be telling clients who might be wary of traveling, not just to China, but within the U.S. and abroad?

DWS: The short answer is: be vigilant but not paralyzed. There’s no benefit to come from being scared to the point of never leaving your house. There are contagions out there—whether they’re reported or not—so take appropriate precautions and go about your life.

MMA: Are airlines doing anything to keep the insides of their planes more hygienic, especially since the outbreak?

DWS: Not to my knowledge. The cleaning routine between flights is pretty cursory, and I haven’t seen any indication that that will change in the near-term, even in light of the most recent outbreak.

MMA: What tips do you have for travelers to make sure they stay safe while traveling?

DWS: Take basic precautions:

  • travel with antibacterial wipes, and wipe down any surfaces you’ll be touching in public places (the tray table on your plane is a key one)
  • be careful if you see somebody coughing, or showing other clear, outward signs of illness, and go to the other side of the room.
  • wash your hands, no matter what. Or least carry your little bottle of alcohol-based sanitizer…whichever of these you prefer, just do it religiously
  • keep your hands away from your face and mouth

MMA: Are there specific groups who should not be traveling at all?

DWS: I wouldn’t say there are any broad categories of people who should be avoiding travel, unless they are showing clear symptoms of this virus, or other contagious illness. For everyone else, appropriate consultation with their treating physician is the right way to go, when it comes to whether or not they should travel.

Groups that carry higher risks of contracting an influenza-type virus should exercise greater caution: the very young, the very old, and the immunosuppressed.

MMA: What advice tips do you have for advisors on how to handle communication with their clients?

DWS: Again, unless there were specific plans to travel to Hubei Province, the basic advice is to be vigilant but not paralyzed. Take your routine health/sanitation precautions, and stay informed on updates. At this time, I would recommend that advisors refer their clients to the following sites for reliable overviews and regular updates:

For more information, Spangler suggests you check out these sites: AIG TravelWorld Health Organization, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Also, check out “Ensuring Client Safety” for tips on how to keep your clients safe during their travels.

 

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