After one of the toughest years we have ever faced, people all across the world will flock to tourist destinations to celebrate the holidays. While everyone needs a break from the draining Covid-19 pandemic and the perils that have come with it, there are important questions to consider when evaluating whether traveling is indeed safe.
Health Metrics – Rising Positivity Rate in Worcester County
One popular tourist destination is none other than Ocean City, which is facing a Covid-19 surge of its own. The positivity rate in Worcester County currently stands at 9.65%, compared with 2.72% exactly two months ago, according to data from the Maryland Department of Health. Other jurisdictions across Maryland and numerous states are seeing similar trends. With these spiking numbers, people are now questioning whether it is really the right time to pack their bags and take a vacation.
Since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan has strongly advised against any out-of-state travel. His latest guidance targets states with a positivity rate of 10% or higher. During a press conference Thursday, he announced that people traveling to and from Maryland must obtain a negative test or quarantine for ten days. In addition, he advised against non-essential out-of-state travel. This certainly changes the already complex situation for non-Maryland residents.
What the Experts Say
Regardless of what directives state officials announce, health experts are making clear that travel to any region could be dangerous. “Any travel may increase the risk of getting and spreading COVID-19. The overall public health recommendation is to limit travel to essential purposes as much as possible,” said Travis Brown, Public Information Officer for the Worcester County Health Department. “Travel within Maryland, or into Maryland from States with similar or lower positivity rates, should still be done carefully and decisions to visit any location for the holiday will come down to taking personal responsibility for the trip.”
Personal responsibility is indeed the key. For those who decide to travel, Brown adds that the safest thing is to get tested. Of course, smart conduct also includes frequently washing your hands, wearing a mask, and social distancing.
To Travel or Not to Travel?
Based on recent actions by Governor Hogan, including preparing for hospitalization surges, reducing capacity limits at various establishments, and even canceling his own Thanksgiving plans, it very possible that he would not suggest visiting OC. On the other hand, top tourism officials in Ocean City have been encouraging offseason visits to the resort town. In a public service announcement released last month, Mayor Rick Meehan discussed the importance of a change of scenery and pushed for tourism. Nonetheless, he did mention the importance of taking safety precautions and applauded all the measures local businesses have put in place to protect their patrons.
Amidst rising health metrics, tourism officials still feel that the resort is a safe place. “Of course, Ocean City is not coronavirus free – no place is – however; the Town and our Business Community are doing everything they can to make sure residents and visitors feel safe,” said Jessica Waters, Acting Tourism Director and Communications Director for the Town of Ocean City. “Our hotels, restaurants, and retail stores are all abiding by the Governor’s executive orders and closely following recommendations by the CDC.”
Making a Personal Choice
With all this in mind, what is the right answer? How do people find a balance between having a fun and festive vacation while also staying safe from Covid-19? Although data has guided experts on the front lines for the past year, tough decisions such as these are entirely based on an individual’s comfort level. “At the end of the day, it’s down to personal responsibility. We know that limiting travel and staying home will reduce the spread of COVID-19,” said Travis Brown. “We also know that people have been stuck inside for the better part of a year now, and the holidays are important for mental health. The safest thing you can do is avoid non-essential travel.” Surely, as Mayor Meehan pointed out in his video, the need for a change of scenery is another paramount factor.
While Brown emphasizes the risks associated with a vacation, he and Waters agree that individuals must make the final call. “I think in the times of Covid-19, most visitors have made decisions that are right for them and their families. To some families at higher risk, that has meant not traveling and finding virtual ways to travel,” said Waters. “For other families, however, traveling with immediate family has remained a safe way to spend time together. Specifically, in the shoulder seasons when crowds are low.” Smaller crowds are another important force to consider when weighing the options.
Tips and Recommendations
For those who decide in favor of visiting OC, it is recommended that you stick to outdoor activities and limit indoor gatherings of more than 10 people. Outdoor activities such as Winterfest or miniature golf, as long as you stay away from other groups, are among the least jeopardizing. As we have learned over the past several months, the risk certainly increases once you head indoors or let your guard down.
In terms of a hotel room, expert tips include opening the windows for improved ventilation, declining room service or housekeeping to limit the number of people in the room, sanitizing surfaces, and keeping away from sites such as the spa or gym. Another recommendation is to ask for a room that has not been occupied for a few days, according to a study from the New England Journal of Medicine. For people planning to stay overnight in someone else’s home, the CDC advises assessing the risk of infection to the hosts and guests. At the same time, many of these considerations can lead to a spiral of never-ending thoughts, leading to more fear. Finally, check in with your hotel management to see what precautions they are taking.
While health experts and government officials can and will provide their insight, especially heading into this festive time of year, the hard question of whether to travel is an answer that is unique to every individual family. The reality is that there is no right answer. Regardless of what people decide, it is comforting to remind yourself that safety is a shared goal amongst everyone, no matter their perspective.