Torn about flying cross-country to visit my family, COVID-19 edition.
March 14, 2020 5:40 PM   Subscribe

I've been given an unexpected ~2 weeks paid "vacation" by my employer, courtesy of the coronavirus. Thinking seriously about flying cross-country to visit my family, but feel hesitant, given COVID-19.

I'm torn whether or not to fly across the country and visit my family. As the job I'm at is retail, it's difficult enough as is to get time off, so this unexpected closure of my place of work (paid leave) is making me really want to visit my family.

What's holding me back:
-Coronavirus and the risk of getting it on the plane AND unknowingly infecting my 60+ aged parents

What's making me want to go:
-Not wanting to be isolated here alone without family
-Dirt cheap airfare
-Taking advantage of the free vacation time, as it's hard to get coveted time off

Obviously, there's only one con, but it's a big "if". What isn't helping is the fact that I'm starting to feel that annoying tickle in my throat. Not sure if it's exhaustion or just a small cold; no COVID-19 symptoms otherwise so far. I don't want to pick up or (if already unknowingly infected) pass along anything to my parents/family. Working retail has exposed me to more probability of getting COVID-19, especially in the city, but so far, I've seemed to be okay *knock on wood*.

I read an article on how air travel, even with COVID-19 as a threat, is pretty safe, which is reassuring. But I still feel stuck. I know, obviously there's FaceTime and all that, but I need this vacation, this time away (I haven't gone home since November; missed Christmas entirely), and a short change in scenery.

Any thoughts or input/something I haven't considered would be very helpful!
posted by dubious_dude to Health & Fitness (49 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
-Coronavirus and the risk of getting it on the plane AND unknowingly infecting my 60+ aged parents

First off, you DO deserve time off and a vacation and to see your family, and I'm so so sorry that you haven't gotten that yet. Unfortunately, it sounds like, especially as a retail employee, you should probably stick where you are. I'm really really sorry you're in this situation.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 5:45 PM on March 14, 2020 [32 favorites]

If you went, you’d have to quarantine for at least six days after arrival to make sure you don’t have it and give it to them. You can probably live with missing your parents but think about it how you would feel if your visit put them through weeks of misery, even if they didn’t die at the end.

Stay home; travel promotes spread of disease. Yes this sucks but it’s better than the alternative.
posted by SaltySalticid at 5:51 PM on March 14, 2020 [13 favorites]

I wouldn't risk it.
posted by pinochiette at 5:53 PM on March 14, 2020 [2 favorites]

I was supposed to fly out to see my mom and my sister, who I only see twice a year, in a warm climate starting this Friday. I am not going, because we just don't get to do that stuff right now. It really, really sucks and I am so disappointed, but it's how things are right now. I feel for you so much and I bet a lot of other folks do too. I'm so sorry :(
posted by goodbyewaffles at 5:54 PM on March 14, 2020 [8 favorites]

I almost did exactly this, but I came to my senses and didn't.

posted by aramaic at 5:54 PM on March 14, 2020 [12 favorites]

No. You can't do this. Too risky. Nobody gets to go anywhere on vacation any more, nobody gets to see their family in person. No matter what. No. :(
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:03 PM on March 14, 2020 [9 favorites]

My brother is getting married in two weeks, and I was supposed to be a groomsman. I canceled my flight. Don't do this.
posted by tobascodagama at 6:03 PM on March 14, 2020 [15 favorites]

Any thoughts or input/something I haven't considered would be very helpful!

Unfortunately, infected people without symptoms might be driving the spread of coronavirus more than we realized (CNN / MSN)
New studies in several countries and a large coronavirus outbreak in Massachusetts bring into question reassuring assertions by US officials about the way the novel virus spreads.

[...] it appears that a Massachusetts coronavirus cluster with at least 82 cases was started by people who were not yet showing symptoms, and more than half a dozen studies have shown that people without symptoms are causing substantial amounts of infection.
And previously, from the Guardian: Coronavirus: many infections spread by people yet to show symptoms – scientists
An analysis of infections in Singapore and Tianjin in China revealed that two-thirds and three-quarters of people respectively appear to have caught it from others who were incubating the virus but still symptom-free.
posted by katra at 6:04 PM on March 14, 2020 [21 favorites]

Keep in mind that, regardless of your status or anyone else’s, flying is a bit precarious right now. Airlines are canceling flights, so any ticket you buy is really a gamble that the airline will actually fly it that day. It might not be a problem to get out there, but what happens when your vacation is up and you’re stuck somewhere across the country unable to fly home?

I too have been tempted to fly home to visit my family (or just take a vacation), but I can’t take that risk.
posted by kevinbelt at 6:06 PM on March 14, 2020 [7 favorites]

Too many risk factors here. Tempting, but no. Just no.
posted by Miko at 6:10 PM on March 14, 2020 [2 favorites]

As a data point, I went on a business trip at the end of January feeling fine as usual and came back with my first bad cold in years. A plane isn't a good place to be right now especially if you're already not feeling 100%.
posted by bleep at 6:15 PM on March 14, 2020 [2 favorites]

I canceled my flight for today on Wed. Business & pleasure; I haven't seen my cousins in 20 years. There is no guarantee you will not pick it up (between the recycled air and all the people you'll bump into). You know the answer.
posted by Rumi'sLeftSock at 6:16 PM on March 14, 2020 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: How about taking Amtrak or even road-tripping it in a rental car?

Thanks for your answers so far. Sobering.
posted by dubious_dude at 6:17 PM on March 14, 2020

You don't want to do that either because if you have these little guys in your system you can be passing them on to other people without knowing, and other people can pass them to you. We need them to die out before they can find new homes in people's bodies.
posted by bleep at 6:22 PM on March 14, 2020 [4 favorites]

The reason businesses are closing down is to encourage social distancing and semi-quarantine to prevent the spread of this extremely contagious disease. If you travel, you are defeating the point.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 6:24 PM on March 14, 2020 [26 favorites]

Many many people who are young are unknowing vectors of the illness (cite) so it's possible you already have it. Your 60+ parents should frankly be in quarantine/extreme social distancing and visiting them, regardless of the transportation you take, is extremely irresponsible. I'm sorry that that is the case!
posted by likeatoaster at 6:24 PM on March 14, 2020 [4 favorites]

Amtrak across country is a long trip--lots of exposure to other people's germs and other people being exposed to yours.

If you road trip in a rental car, the prospect of getting sick en route, in an unfamiliar place, during a pandemic, doesn't seem fun.
posted by needs more cowbell at 6:24 PM on March 14, 2020 [5 favorites]

Ok I'll be devil's advocate. Now's your chance - DO IT. Domestic travel is fine - people are overreacting. The airports are still open, people are still going about their lives despite the toilet paper hoarding. Are you really going to sit inside for two weeks and not come into contact with other people?

I still have to go to work this week and I'm going to take the subway through one of the nations largest cities to do it. Maybe that's unspeakable selfish of me and I'm putting grannies everywhere at risk, but life goes on. If my work cancels anymore dates I'm taking a flight to the desert to do some camping.... alone and without internet service :).
posted by bradbane at 6:30 PM on March 14, 2020 [5 favorites]

Right now, beginning stage of actual pandemic, any individual act of travel or other form of social interaction is unlikely to result in infection. But in the aggregate, experience and research show that the more social interaction, the more infection. In 10 days- 2 weeks, it could be much worse. It's a Pandemic. It's a National Emergency. It's very serious; a lot of effort is going onto keeping the intensity of the spread manageable, so health care resources don't get overloaded.

You have 2 weeks because it's a National Emergency. Flights are affordable because it's a National Emergency. Engage in Social Distancing because it's a National Emergency. Stay put.
posted by theora55 at 6:31 PM on March 14, 2020 [49 favorites]

Life only goes on if there's enough beds and supplies and oxygen masks at the hospital for everyone who needs one. So far in many countries that has not been the case. Life didn't go on for many people.
posted by bleep at 6:37 PM on March 14, 2020 [31 favorites]

No. It is your civic duty to stay where you are. All of us who can do that must do that. There are people who must travel for lifesaving reasons. The rest of us need to stay home. Right now.

Things are about to get very, very ugly.
posted by spitbull at 6:42 PM on March 14, 2020 [21 favorites]

No one has yet to explain to me why, since the virus is already present, travel is inherently more of a moral problem than, e.g., going out to the movies. It's just very easy to feel Prudent and Responsible by condemning travel without asking whether it's actually replacing less risky activities (I think in part because travel is historically associated in people's minds with disease spread). And, if your parents aren't already isolating themselves, then why you are more likely to give them the virus than anyone else they come into reasonably close contact with is beyond me. However. Since you are in a position to minimize going out altogether (that is, don't go to the movies), that really is the more prudent choice. Moreover, I think there are real practical difficulties with going--what if you can't get back? What if you're laid off after the two weeks, and would have benefited from saving the money?
posted by praemunire at 6:57 PM on March 14, 2020 [10 favorites]

Tough to control your exposure risk flying right now. O'Hare airport tonight. Ft. Lauderdale earlier today (courtesy of MeFi's own jscalzi).
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 7:03 PM on March 14, 2020 [6 favorites]

Ex-Obama official warns US health system faces 'tsunami' over coronavirus (Guardian)
Andy Slavitt, who was Obama’s acting administrator of Medicare and Medicaid, said the trajectory of the spread of the virus in the US could follow that of Italy, which has seen cases soar to almost 20,000 and deaths exceed 1,300 in short order. The only way for the US to avoid such an explosion, Slavitt said in a series of tweets on Saturday, was for the entire population to follow a strict policy of social isolation and hospitals to reorganise and prioritise resources to fight the outbreak.

“Expanding medical capacity has to be done but will only make a tiny difference if we don’t self-isolate,” Slavitt said. “I get it. Home from work. Cooped up. Crisis mentality. We need to let steam off. Shared experience. But stop that. All the bars and restaurants are closed now across Europe.” Tweets by Slavitt on Friday highlighted some experts’ expectations that more than 1 million could die in the US from coronavirus, and that early inaction by the Trump administration had fueled “a major preventable public health disaster”.

[...] Other medical experts have also warned the public to brace for an overwhelming number of coronavirus cases. “We’re about to experience the worst public health disaster since polio,” said Dr Martin Makary, professor at Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health, speaking to Yahoo Finance.

“Don’t believe the numbers when you see, even on our Johns Hopkins website, that 1,600 Americans have the virus. No, that means 1,600 got the test, tested positive. “There are probably 25 to 50 people who have the virus for every one person who is confirmed. I think we have between 50,000 and half a million cases right now walking around in the United States.”
posted by katra at 7:09 PM on March 14, 2020 [9 favorites]

Agreeing with the above - please don't do it. DEFINITELY don't fly - for all sorts of reasons: shared surfaces, crammed in with others in a cramped space, not to mention flights could be further restricted or cancelled, potentially stranding you. Yes driving is less risky, but is is really worth it (not to mention that's a crazy long drive)? You could still get stuck somewhere or could be acting as an unknown carrier.

FWIW my sister and her family were supposed to be visiting me right now, but cancelled a few days ago. I don't see her often so we were all bummed, but we all agreed it was for the best for many reasons, not to mention all the museum closings etc would've kind of put a damper on the trip. We rescheduled for July and are hoping things are closer to normal by then.

I know you said it's hard to get time off, but maybe you can take advantage of those rock-bottom airfares and book a trip for a few months from now?
posted by photo guy at 7:13 PM on March 14, 2020 [3 favorites]

As a data point, my grandparents live a short commuter rail trip away, and I saw them last weekend, nervous the whole time that I might give it to them, and I don't intend to see them in person for... a while.

The UK is considering locking all over 75s inside for the duration.
posted by BungaDunga at 7:47 PM on March 14, 2020 [4 favorites]

I would not risk seeing my older parents at this time.

That doesn't mean that you can't spend time with them during your vacation. How about finding some activities to do together over video chat? Maybe you could do a mini book club, watch something on netflix simultaneously, play a game, cook the same recipe, etc. Think of something that you would like to do with your parents if you were together and try to recreate it over video.

We're currently quarantined with our 3 children, and we are isolating ourselves from 2 sets of grandparents who we normally see on a regular basis. To maintain contact, we've been doing a variety of activities over video chat, and it's interesting how we've developed more facets to our relationship when forced to interact in an unusual way.

It would definitely be more fun to visit in person, but I personally would not be comfortable knowing that I may be putting my parents at risk.
posted by defreckled at 7:58 PM on March 14, 2020 [7 favorites]

I wouldn't. My dad lives in the same city as me and I'm not visiting him even though I'd love to see him.
posted by daybeforetheday at 8:20 PM on March 14, 2020 [5 favorites]

The reason that you were given the time off is so that you would stay put and not become a vector. I'm really sorry that you don't get vacation time otherwise. That stinks. This is one of those times where we all have to make sacrifices in order to take care of one another. Please stay home and take care.
posted by k8lin at 8:53 PM on March 14, 2020 [9 favorites]

This isn’t a paid vacation. This is paid time off so you stay the fuck home.

If you go, you must be prepared that there could be a quarantine and you won’t be allowed to return home. At that point, you might have to quit your job even if you aren’t sick.
posted by bluedaisy at 9:30 PM on March 14, 2020 [15 favorites]

How does the family you would be visiting feel about it? Instead of imposing a risk on them, ask them if they are ok with it.

If it were me, and I could road trip it in a car by myself and I took precautions when getting fuel, I would go with their approval.
posted by AugustWest at 9:58 PM on March 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

But don’t take my word for it. Listen to Mr. Ferraresi, who is living a week into a hellish future in Italy.

“We thought a few local lockdowns, canceling public gatherings, and warmly encouraging working from home would be enough stop the spread of the virus,” he wrote. “We now know that wasn’t nearly enough.”
Please don't. You're in an area with active community spread. I know you need the break and time away, but please consider how utterly devastating it will be if you transmit this thing to your vulnerable parents, let alone others around you. Stay home to the extent you can.
posted by zachlipton at 10:26 PM on March 14, 2020 [7 favorites]

I would not be at all surprised if domestic flight/travel restrictions come soon. In addition to the risks to yourself and your parents, I would strongly consider the possibility of being stuck.

I say this, ironically enough, as I wait to board a flight. I left for vacation a week ago, when it wasn’t a pandemic, my state had no cases, schools were in session, public events weren’t canceled, etc. Things changed really fast. I would have made a different decision on traveling were I leaving tomorrow.
posted by charmcityblues at 10:46 PM on March 14, 2020 [4 favorites]

I would absolutely not do this because I could never forgive myself if I gave it to my parents and they died. You were given time off so you would STAY HOME. No one should be visiting anyone over age 60 right now.
posted by amaire at 11:33 PM on March 14, 2020 [3 favorites]

I would never forgive myself if my parents got it, died from it, and I did not get to say goodbye in person. I also think that employees are not being paid to stay home, they are being paid to not come in or because the business is being temporarily shuttered. If you are not getting paid but you are asked not to work for 3 weeks it is ok to do what you want? The pay has nothing to do with the decision. It is about risk to you and others and to the collective good.

There is no definitive right or wrong answer to any one individual deciding to travel. Collectively, we know that social distancing limits the spread of the virus. To the extent one can limit their exposure they should.

I think it is important to know much more about your situation. What do your relatives think about the risk your visit might bring? How are you getting to the airport? What is the plan if you do become symptomatic while across the country? What support do you have where you are now if you catch the virus?

I personally am avoiding any non essential travel. I made a drive (from NY to Boston) to help a friend who was unable to help their child move out of their dorm room. People who have to go home are traveling. What would you tell a college kid about spring break, not go home for two weeks?

If you are worried about it, do not go. If you think you can take reasonable precautions such as wiping off every surface of your seat area on the plane and washing your hands often and your family is ok with the risk of you traveling to see them, consider going.
posted by AugustWest at 12:39 AM on March 15, 2020

I’m going to quote our school superintendent who closed our local schools for at least two weeks (who are we kidding, it’s going to be longer than that):

“ Now, we ask that you do your part. Creating social gatherings during the school outage will minimize the impact of closing school. Carefully consider the necessity of being together. This is not a vacation. It is an extreme measure to allow for social distancing so the virus is not spread.”
posted by lydhre at 4:36 AM on March 15, 2020 [7 favorites]

I cancelled a trip to go visit my father (75, heart issues, past pneumonia, but “just fine!”) in a few weeks. I haven’t seen him since September. And he’s even telling me to come, that the flights will be cheaper and empty! Nope. I’d rather him think I’m panicky and overreacting (which he does) than to take the chance.

So I feel your disappointment at not being able to see your family right now. This whole mess stinks.
posted by kimberussell at 4:57 AM on March 15, 2020 [3 favorites]

The consequences of getting COVID-19 and then recovering from it are also potentially severe. It's a life-changing disease for some people. Spend some time remotely with your family and make plans after this event bottoms out.
Right now you have your resources tied into your community. So does your family. This, too, will pass.
posted by TrishaU at 5:34 AM on March 15, 2020 [2 favorites]

Epidemiologist here. I'm pleased to read the chorus of responses above, because the correct answer here is to avoid travel unless it is absolutely essential, to avoid socializing in person unless it's absolutely essential, and to stay at home as much as possible. This is going to get worse before it gets better, and you are a data point that can help by minding these recommendations.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 6:08 AM on March 15, 2020 [28 favorites]

I would never forgive myself if my parents got it, died from it, and I did not get to say goodbye in person

That thought packs a powerful emotional punch but think about it for a second - it doesn't kill immediately, so if someone got it, you'd most likely be able to find a way to be there. There would be time and there will be systems for this. This is not a basis on which to make a decision. It makes more sense not to potentially be the vector by which the illness reaches them (and others).

For comparison, NYC area, my 70something parents live 1.4 miles away and I am not visiting them.
posted by Miko at 6:49 AM on March 15, 2020 [7 favorites]

I live a 2.5-hour round trip drive from my 84-year-old mother and 83-year-old father, and I haven't been able to drive since before Halloween because of strabismus that compromised my vision.

I've just had surgery that corrected my vision and ... my parents have informed me and my sister, "We're happy to talk on the phone, but no in-person visits for the foreseeable future."

I'm going to quote the message from lydhre's superintendent because it makes so much sense:
This is not a vacation. It is an extreme measure to allow for social distancing so the virus is not spread.
A suggestion from the near past: Writing letters is a good way to feel closer to people, and it gives your loved ones something to look forward to in the mail besides bills.
posted by virago at 7:08 AM on March 15, 2020 [4 favorites]

It's just very easy to feel Prudent and Responsible by condemning travel without asking whether it's actually replacing less risky activities (I think in part because travel is historically associated in people's minds with disease spread).

Huh, I've been struck by the opposite--travel is so central to everyone's sense of personhood in the 21st century that people feel like it's something like oppression to be asked not to do it. Not talking about the OP, but generally.
posted by less of course at 8:42 AM on March 15, 2020 [7 favorites]

I've cancelled an Amtrak trip that was supposed to begin in a few days. It feels too irresponsible to be a potential vector, no matter what the form of transport is. (Even the car, unless I suppose you can make the trip in one shot with absolutely no stops for food or restrooms, do not leave your parents' place while you're there, and are willing to risk both exposing them and risking being stuck there in quarantine indefinitely if lockdowns take effect before you get home. Will you lose your job? Will you be able to afford to be away from home indefinitely? Will you run out of meds or other resources ?

I strongly, strongly recommend you not take the trip. Use your time to arrange video or phone chats with your family that you wouldn't otherwise have time for. Write letters.

I know you feel stuck. You are stuck, and it sucks, and I'm sorry. But we live in a community and staying home is one of the ways you can contribute to community well-being.
posted by Stacey at 9:30 AM on March 15, 2020 [2 favorites]

> How about taking Amtrak or even road-tripping it in a rental car?

The mode of travel isn't the relevant issue, it's the risk of infecting your parents, who are in a high risk group, with the consequences of your contact with people (including your coworkers over the past week-and-change), gas pump handles, touch screens, store receipts, door handles, restroom faucets, and so on.
posted by ardgedee at 9:59 AM on March 15, 2020

fwiw: Coronavirus: governor tells Trump to 'get shit together' amid airport chaos (Guardian)
“If you don’t have to travel, I wouldn’t do it,” Donald Trump said at a White House briefing on Saturday.
And via the ongoing news updates posted by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: ‘Over-reacting is better than non-reacting’ – academics around the world share thoughts on coronavirus (World Economic Forum)
Dean Michelle Williams contributed to this article featuring insights from academics from the world’s leading universities on how COVID-19 is spreading and what measures should be taken to slow the spread. “Social distancing—successfully practiced by some cities during the influenza pandemic of 1918—is our current best defense against the cascading effects of COVID-19,” she said.
posted by katra at 11:57 AM on March 15, 2020

Travel is terrible because it creates geographic dispersion of cases FASTER than is already happening. And you shouldn’t be going out to movies and bars either. I can not believe educated people are still minimizing this. Think of someone beside yourself.
posted by spitbull at 12:26 PM on March 15, 2020 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for all your input and suggestions. After discussing this more with my family, we decided to not proceed with me visiting them, given all the risks. It was a very difficult decision to make, but I weighed all of your input, and friends' input as well.

One thing I wanted to make clear—I have been thinking of others' needs, not only my own needs. That's why I posted this Ask in the first place; because I was unsure and didn't want my actions to unintentionally harm anyone else.

Thank you.
posted by dubious_dude at 8:54 PM on March 15, 2020 [15 favorites]

You're a mensch. This is a time of many difficult decisions, and you made a very good decision.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 10:36 AM on March 16, 2020 [6 favorites]

In just a few days retrospect, you certainly made the right decision.

It is actually a major failure that we didn’t ban non-essential air travel weeks ago.
posted by spitbull at 3:38 AM on March 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

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