It’s been six months since March, when the Coronavirus came down hard and much of America went into lockdown. Doctors and epidemiologists have had millions of cases to observe and analyze, and a consensus has developed about how to stop the spread of the virus. Along with it, people have learned how to protect themselves, and strategies are emerging for how to travel safely in a world in which the Coronavirus is present.
Even during the days of the strictest protocols, people were allowed to avail themselves of “essential services,” such as going to the grocery store. Early on, it became clear that the most effective means for stopping the spread were wearing masks, physical distancing, washing hands, and disinfecting high-touch surfaces. Wearing masks is at the top of the list and the most important.
James Redfield, the head of the CDC, said that if everyone would wear a mask we could get the virus under control within four to eight weeks. If we got our rapid testing and contact tracing regimen in place, we could isolate the virus and essentially starve it by denying it human vehicles for transmission.
Meanwhile the virus is with us, and we have to exercise caution when moving about in the world.
People as Vehicles for a Virus
When we say the virus is “in the environment,” we are talking about people. It’s not in trees or the ocean. It lives in people and it moves through people. It doesn’t survive long outside of the human body.
Unfortunately, you don’t have to touch an infected person to contract it. It’s well known (now) that the main medium of travel from person to person is through the air, through aerosolized particles of moisture in human breath.
That means to be safe we should avoid crowded, enclosed spaces. When you do go to the grocery store, you need to observe the safety protocols. Wear a mask. Stay six feet away from others. Pick up what you need, and then leave the store. Wash your hands and use disinfectants.
The Lifespan of a Virus
Though the virus travels through the air in open-air environments it does not stay intact long after it leaves the body in the breath. In enclosed spaces with poor ventilation the clouds of aerosolized particles can hang in the air longer.
The virus is a microscopic strand of RNA or DNA in a protein shell. There is some controversy in the scientific community whether or not to even classify a virus as a living thing. But, living or not, it is an active disease agent that can kill people in large numbers and wreak havoc in the world.
Outside of the body, its lifespan is very short. It travels through the air enough to move from one person to another at short distances. But the virus doesn’t last long in the environment outside of a human host.
In open-air environments, the microscopic particles of moisture in the breath dissipate or evaporate in the atmosphere. The environment that supports the virus is destroyed – and so is the virus.
Michael Osterholm, the founder and director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota and author of the 2017 book, Deadliest Enemy: Our War Against Killer Germs, said that outdoors “the virus dissipates quite quickly into the air. If there’s any air movements around, it literally blows the cloud away and, in a sense, disintegrates it.”
Through study of all these factors it has become possible to devise strategies for keeping people safe.
Even during the most intense periods of lockdown, it was deemed by authorities to be permissible to go to the grocery store – if you observed the precautions.
After learning how to travel safely to the grocery store, it was inevitable that people would take the next logical step. If I can travel to the grocery store, why can’t I apply the same principles to traveling somewhere else farther away?
Bubbles or Pods
If I have been quarantining for two weeks or more, which is beyond the incubation period of the disease, I can assume that my home is a safe environment. I am still safe when I get in my car. The danger emerges when I enter an environment with other people, a public space such as a store. People have been devising strategies for traveling safely in the presence of the virus.
One is called “bubbling”. When you are quarantined with your family or tribe for the two-week incubation period, it is safe to associate with those people. They can constitute your bubble or a pod. That group can move in the world together using the same principles you use to travel safely to, and from, the grocery store.
Bubbling has emerged as a strategy for staying safe, while gaining some mobility.
According to MIT Technology Review, “Holing up with groups of friends or neighbors or other families during lockdown has given many people, especially those stuck home alone, a way to relieve isolation without spreading COVID-19. These groups are known as bubbles, and new computer simulations described in Nature today show they may really work.”
Your bubble is safe in your home, and it’s still safe in your car. When you’re in your car, you carry your safe space with you beyond your home and it becomes like a safe tunnel through which your bubble can travel from one safe place to another. When you leave your car, you have to exercise the same precautions you exercise when you go to the grocery store.
Since virtually everyone has been going through the COVID experience together, millions of people have simultaneously discovered that it’s possible to travel safely by applying the same principles you use when you go shopping to go on longer trips. It means that it’s possible to travel by car. And by those means, America is your oyster.
As a result, many Americans are doing this, traveling around, visiting national parks and various sites. As long as you observe the same principles for staying safe, you can do it.
National Parks and other outdoor environments are ideal destinations during the time of COVID and as a result their attendance numbers have been soaring. As restaurants and other attractions learn ways to enforce distancing and enhance ventilation to make their environments safer, the options for taking safe road trips are expanding, even as the pandemic remains with us.
Someone posted on Facebook the map of their “European Tour 2020”. It started in Lisbon (Florida) traveled to Vienna (Georgia), Dublin (Georgia), Rome (Tennessee), Athens (Tennessee), Florence (Mississippi), Paris (Tennessee), London (Kentucky) and Frankfort (Kentucky).
Hey, in tough times you have to use your imagination.
It’s good to see some light in the end of this long, dark tunnel.
David Cogswell is a freelance writer working remotely, from wherever he is at the moment. Born at the dead center of the United States during the last century, he has been incessantly moving and exploring for decades. His articles have appeared in the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, Fortune, Fox News, Luxury Travel magazine, Travel Weekly, Travel Market Report, Travel Agent Magazine, TravelPulse.com, Quirkycruise.com and other publications. He is the author of four books and a contributor to several others. He was last seen somewhere in the Northeast U.S.