TravelKidsPic

Derek Austin and his family, all masked, head to their flight at Jacksonville International Airport. The CDC says fully vaccinated people can travel within the U.S. If you have kids, experts say you may want to wait.

PHILADELPHIA — After a year of continual pandemic lockdowns, most of us are ready to take flight and explore. Fortunately, the good news keeps coming for those who are vaccinated.

If you’ve got both shots (or the one Johnson & Johnson shot), and it’s been two weeks since that last shot, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says you can safely travel at “low risk,” as long as you continue to take precautions like wearing a mask, avoiding crowds, socially distancing and washing your hands.

In updating its domestic travel guidelines, the CDC also now says fully vaccinated people don’t need to get tested before traveling or self-quarantine afterward when staying within the U.S. The same goes for if you’ve recovered from COVID-19 within the past three months.

As for international travel, the CDC continues to encourage everyone to take precautions. But you don’t need to get a COVID-19 test if you’re fully vaccinated, as long as your international destination doesn’t require it. You also don’t need to self-quarantine after returning unless your state or local jurisdiction requires it. But you will need a negative test result before boarding your flight home, and you’ll also need to get tested three to five days after returning.

Q. What if you’re not vaccinated yet?

A. The CDC’s travel guidelines haven’t changed for those who aren’t vaccinated, which means nonessential trips are still discouraged.

If you do travel, you’re supposed to get tested one to three days before departing and three to five days after returning. You’re also advised to self-quarantine for a week after you return (or 10 days if you aren’t tested upon returning).

Q. So what does this mean if you have kids who aren’t eligible for a vaccine?

A. While vaccines are currently being administered to kids in clinical trials, the vaccine isn’t publicly available yet to anyone under 16 years old. If you’re a parent, (and vaccinated), you may be wondering: Is it safe to hop on a plane and take a family trip?

“My children haven’t been able to see their grandparents in over a year, and I really want to be able to take a flight and visit my parents in Florida, but I’m choosing to wait until we’ve gotten more of the country vaccinated and the case numbers drop,” says Craig Shapiro, pediatric infectious diseases specialist, Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children. “We’re still battling with this virus, and currently the numbers are going up, not down.”

It’s not just adults who are getting infected. Many states have seen steep increases of COVID-19 in kids across the past few weeks. From March 25 through April 1, about 64,000 new cases in children were reported nationwide, roughly 13% of all reported cases.

“Compared to adults, it seems small, but it’s really not a small problem, and we still don’t know even for children with mild or no symptoms what the long term impact of infection could be,” says Shapiro. “We also don’t know how these new variants are going to impact children, and whether they’ll be more transmissible or cause more severe disease than some of the earlier strains.”

Experts expect infection rates will look much different in three to four months. By that point, it’s possible the vaccine will also be available for kids ages 12 to 15 years old. If you can hold on just a little longer, Shapiro strongly encourages it, but like many situations in this pandemic, he says it may come down to deciding if the current risk is worth it.

Q. How can we lower our COVID-19 risk if I fly with kids?

A. When weighing your options, some say you may want to think about your kid’s maturity level.

“If your child is in an age range where you can rely on them to wear a mask, keep their distance from other people, and wash their hands before wiping their nose, for example, then I’d say it’s reasonable to consider traveling, as long as you continue to follow the CDC’s guidance,” says Vincent Silenzio, a professor at the Rutgers School of Public Health.

This means that you should get your kid tested before and after traveling, and follow the CDC’s self-quarantine guidelines. It’s important to ensure your kid didn’t get infected while traveling before interacting with people from other households.

“It’s best to remember kids are very lovable bioterror organisms,” says Silenzio. “Although it happens, it’s unlikely that your adolescent is going to be severely harmed (by getting COVID-19), but it’s not at all unlikely for them to inadvertently harm someone else by passing an infection along.”

Silenzio notes that if you can drive, it’s always a safer choice. While airlines have a variety of risk mitigation measures in place including air filtration, traveling by plane ultimately puts you in an environment you can’t control, alongside a lot of other people. And as Shapiro points out, many of those other travelers likely aren’t vaccinated.

“The mitigation measures are important, but only about one-quarter of the population has been vaccinated, and then you’re sitting in a closed space where people are taking their masks on and off to eat and drink,” says Shapiro. “Plus there are the lines you have to stand in just to get to the gate.”

If you must travel by plane:

—Book a direct flight

—Do your best to avoid crowded areas inside the airport.

—Look into infection rates at your destination. If they’re on the rise, your risk also increases.

—Consider your return, too. If your kid’s going to school in person and it’s not feasible to quarantine them at home for a week, consider waiting.

“If remote schooling isn’t an option, you’re going to need to balance how critically important it is for you to do this right now,” says Silenzio. “It could be that you drive yourself crazy to travel in April when in August, things end up looking a lot better.”

Experts are optimistic it won’t be that much longer until everyone can travel at low risk. And you don’t necessarily have to wait until all of your kids get COVID-19 shots, either.

“I’m still considering traveling with my children before they're vaccinated, but the case numbers would have to be significantly lower than where they are today,” says Shapiro. “I think that’s likely to happen by late summer or early fall.”


©2021 The Philadelphia Inquirer, LLC. Visit at inquirer.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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