Tips for staying safe from COVID while traveling for the holidays

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Many Americans have been hoping that this fall and winter would see the pandemic fading, especially as they begin to make holiday plans.

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During the start of the global pandemic, airlines added cleaning and disinfecting protocols, updated air filtration systems, and implemented rules on social distancing.

As the nation tackles new variants of COVID-19, many are once again wondering if it will be safe to fly during the holidays?

An expert told Good Morning America that you can, but you have to be extra careful.

“The evidence is pretty good with respect to cleaning materials that airlines use for the most part it’s going to kill a lot of the virus, and hopefully all of it,” Dr. Jay Bhatt, an internal medicine physician, an instructor at the University of Illinois School of Public Health and an ABC News contributor, said.

“But that still doesn’t take away the issue of being in close proximity to others, as you’re traveling, getting out of planes getting seated, getting up and leaving grabbing your bag. There’s a lot of different exposure risk and possibility there.”

While airlines no longer have social distancing policies on board planes, Bhatt said the filtration systems help to mitigate the spread of the virus.

“Planes are using hyperfiltration and are requiring masking -- those are both really good things to help reduce the risk of infection,” Bhatt said.

In addition, Bhatt stressed the best way to slow the risk of spending the virus is to get the vaccine, wear a face mask, and not eat or drink on the airplane.

“The difference between a high-grade quality mask or double masking compared to one blue surgical mask is about 10 to 12% more protective,” the doctor added.

Before traveling for the holidays, Bhatt also urged everyone to get tested three days prior to departure, even those who are fully vaccinated.

“There’s higher risk during the holidays because of the amount of people traveling, the in and out of people in colleges and universities, and as well as in school with adolescence and younger kids,” he said. “The other issue is that in many parts of the country, there are folks that think the pandemic is over. And let’s be clear, we are still very much in a pandemic.”

Bhatt said a vaccine requirement would decrease the risk of infection while traveling, although there currently isn't a mandate to fly domestically.

“My advice is get vaccinated if you’re not," Bhatt said, "I would say look at the level of community transmission, and think about places you might be able to go and outdoors when you’re traveling, and most importantly, have your mask."

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