“The biggest key is prevention and protection,” warns Dr. Michelle Preckett, MD, associate professor of pulmonology and critical care at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and MD, Northwestern University. “If you haven’t been vaccinated, now is the time. Anyone over 50 or anyone with chronic medical conditions should get a second booster as well. Think about where you are going and how you can limit interaction with others for a safe flight.” .
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, you should not travel if you have symptoms of COVID-19, test positive, or are waiting for test results. If you test positive, you are not supposed to travel “until 10 full days after symptoms began or the date you had your positive test if you had no symptoms.” Additionally, if you test positive while at your destination, “you will need to isolate and postpone your return until it is safe for you to travel.” In addition, your travel companions may also need to be quarantined.
But people don’t exactly follow the rules — whether it’s because of the costs of extending their hotel stay and/or rescheduling flights or not being able to take extra time off work — and they’re traveling anyway.
What do you want to know before you go? We spoke to a few experts to find out.
While you’re in the booking stages for your flight, check with the airline and accommodations for their COVID policies and what will happen if you need to cancel your flight for health reasons. As an extra precaution, consider purchasing travel insurance.
As your group plans your itinerary, you’ll also want to have a frank discussion to make sure you’re all on the same page with safety precautions, such as keeping up with vaccinations, limiting high-risk activities in the days leading up to your flight, and wearing masks during your flight.
It’s about a group of people agreeing to be careful because you’re sharing the risks when you’re with other people. It’s about shared risk and shared responsibility, points out Dr. Priti Malaney, a professor of medicine at the University of Michigan who specializes in infectious diseases. “And I think most people are really thinking about this. They want to get together and keep their families safe.”
In addition to additional tests, masks, and a thermometer, Malaney recommends keeping a readily available list of your health care provider contact information and an updated list of your current medications due to potential drug interactions.
“If you have high-risk medical conditions, being careful about the type of trip you take is also important,” she warns. “You don’t want to be too far or too far, and you want to know ahead of time which hospitals are in your area as there are a lot of parts of the country where there is no ICU care.”
You’ll also need to discuss a contingency plan for what happens if someone in your group gets the virus while traveling and look for health care facilities, urgent care, and pharmacies at your destination in case you need treatment.
While traveling, doctors advise you to social distance as much as possible and to continue to wear high-quality masks, such as N95 or KN95, in order to ward off infection.
This is about mitigating risks, not eliminating them. There is no one thing that deals with all risks,” Malani explains. “But when you bundle those things like vaccination and testing and think about wearing a mask, that can help reduce the risk.”
But if you start experiencing COVID symptoms, you will need to get a COVID test as soon as possible. Experts say timing is of the essence when it comes to getting the right treatment, if needed.
“The sooner a diagnosis is made, the sooner you can get some treatment and consider options at your destination,” Prickett says. “So be highly suspicious, wear your mask, get tested, and retest if symptoms persist.”
If you contract COVID while traveling, isolate yourself from the rest of your party as soon as possible and try to extend your stay.
“There is an example and there is a fact. Ideally, you have a separate room, a separate bathroom, and [if you] Possible extension of your stay. Anyone exposed should monitor themselves for symptoms, get tested, and wear a mask around other people due to the increased risk of infection,” Malani explains. “However, some people may not be able to do this.”
If you can’t book a private room, Malaney recommends wearing masks in the room for both infected and uninfected people.
“If someone in contact with the home has COVID, it will be difficult to avoid spreading it especially if you are sharing a hotel room – it just depends on how vulnerable others are,” she says. “Your best bet is to isolate anyone showing symptoms, even mild ones, and put on masks.”
If your child gets sick while traveling, the same rules apply: get tested, try to isolate, and limit exposure. If the child is old enough to wear a mask, they must do so and the caregiver must wear a mask as well.
The highest risk of infection is during those first five days, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need to be diligent afterward.
“After those first five days, you can start doing things, but the mask has to be really tight. Dr. Mark Loveman, MD, a family physician at Cook County Health in Chicago, who specializes in infectious disease outbreaks, public health, healthcare research, and health policy says, “You have to be really strict about that. If it’s a three-hour flight, don’t take the mask off.” Even if doing so elicits some stares at the airport.
“We just need to be vigilant and confident that we are doing the right thing and not let peer pressure or social pressure stop us from doing the right thing. It’s not really a burden to wear a mask.” I just encourage people to continue to follow the guidelines. Being a role model and doing things right. COVID will be with us for a while and that will just be a way forward.”
Malani agrees and wants to ensure that people can congregate and travel safely.
“After two years of not being able to do the things that are really important to us, now is the time to try to do it. With a little planning and thought from everyone involved, you can do it safely.” “There will not be a magical moment in the coming months where the stakes are completely gone. They will be higher and lower at times, but there is no time like now to do the things that matter to us.”
This story originally appeared on Fortune.com