Hi, I’m Dr. Jenny Yu, Healthline’s Medical Expert and Lonely Planet Travel Health Expert. Welcome to my column, where each week I’ll share stories and insights, experiences and opportunities, and perspectives on how you can take the "well" traveled path in your journeys.
The next 6 to 8 weeks will remain a challenging time for travel as COVID-19 cases surge due to the Omicron variant. While early indications suggest that this variant will have milder symptoms, the disruption to travel will remain the same: even without any symptoms, a positive test result will affect your plans.
Travel plans on the horizon? Here are some ways to help to reduce your chances of an unexpected positive test result in the face of this more transmissible variant.
Pre-quarantine prior to traveling
Avoid crowded places and being indoors with unmasked people. This helps to reduce the risk of virus exposure, which can potentially cause you to test positive or become ill.
Wear a properly fitted medical mask
Because the Omicron variant is more transmissible, wearing a properly fitted mask made with materials that can filter out tiny particles will be more effective in preventing infection.
The best masks suited for this are the NIOSH-approved N95, KN95 or KF94 masks. The number and letter designations are technical, indicating the percentage of particles that can be blocked. When it comes time to choose a mask for travel, the KF94 and trifold KN95s tend to fit wider faces, ensuring a better seal and providing more comfort during a long plane ride.
Choosing a mask that properly fits, meaning it covers the nose and the lower face, is as important as the material.
Keep air flowing
The challenge with viral particles is that their small size can allow them to linger in air. Air ventilation, circulation and filtration helps to reduce this risk, decreasing concentrated amounts of viral particles that can linger. Open doors and windows for creating air flow in indoor spaces. Portable air purifiers can be useful in places where one cannot control the air circulation.
Practice good hand hygiene
While traveling, high-touch surfaces such as hand rests, tray tables, door handles, etc. should be wiped down. Avoid touching your face as our hands carry germs. Hand washing with soap and water is preferred, but when that isn’t available, hand sanitizers are just as good.
If you become symptomatic, especially while traveling, having a travel kit with medical essentials would be helpful: include a thermometer, anti-fever medications, and a pulse oximeter for evaluating blood oxygen level.
Omicron’s symptoms tend to feel more like an upper respiratory illness—sinus pressure, headache, congestion, and sore throat. It isn’t affecting the lung tissue nearly as much as the earlier variants, which is a relief.
Viruses adapt to their environment by mutation—we are adapting by learning how to live with the virus and mitigate its risks.
For more information on COVID-19 and travel, check out Lonely Planet's Health Hub.
You might also like:
The Well-Traveled Path: Dr. Jenny Yu on COVID-19 testing for travel
The Well-Traveled Path: Dr. Jenny Yu answers your questions on Omicron, boosters and more
Holiday travel in the United States: COVID-19 requirements to know before you travel