Planes, Trains and Automobiles: Pandemic Edition
March 16, 2020 11:23 AM   Subscribe

My parents plan on returning from Florida to Boston at the end of this week. What's the safest way to get them home?

My parents (late 60's, no history of respiratory illness or other risk factors other than age) were on vacation with friends in Florida when COVID-19 blew up. They've already extended their stay there by a week in the spirit of social distancing, but they're planning on coming home at the end of the week. They have plane tickets, but they're considering whether they should rent a car and drive. On the one hand, planes and airports seem like not great places to be right now, but on the other, driving would mean several days on the road, interacting with people in gas stations and hotels and restaurants across a wide swath of the country, not to mention significant added expense. All the travel advice I've seen online is focused on international travel, or on deciding whether or not to travel. Given that they have to get home at some point, is there a significant advantage of one mode of travel over others? Are there any experts talking about this?

(Also, I'd appreciate if answers were from those with professional expertise or with citations to those with professional expertise. I know that feelings are running understandably high around anything COVID-related right now, but I promise that both I and my parents are adults who are capable of doing our own risk analysis. What would be useful to us right now is data and expert advice, not "this feels safe/dangerous to me.")
posted by firechicago to Travel & Transportation (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not an expert, but after a coronavirus exposure at my workplace, my company emphasized that short interactions are not considered high-risk. So I would drive to avoid that longer exposure in airports and especially in the close quarters on the plane. There's also a non-zero chance that airports/airlines could shut down.
posted by pinochiette at 11:30 AM on March 16, 2020 [2 favorites]

As a start, there is this previous AskMe, which includes links to sources: Torn about flying cross-country to visit my family, COVID-19 edition.
posted by katra at 11:50 AM on March 16, 2020

From the CDC: Coronavirus and Travel in the United States (Mar. 11, 2020)
CDC does not generally issue advisories or restrictions for travel within the United States. However, cases of COVID-19 have been reported in many states, and some areas are experiencing community spread of the disease. Crowded travel settings, like airports, may increase your risk of exposure to COVID-19, if there are other travelers with COVID-19. There are several things you should consider when deciding whether it is safe for you to travel. [...] CDC recommends that travelers at higher risk for COVID-19 complications avoid all cruise travel and nonessential air travel.
Also from the CDC: Global COVID-19 Outbreak Notice (Mar. 16, 2020)
CDC recommends that older adults and people of any age with serious chronic medical conditions consider postponing nonessential travel. Older adults and people of any age with serious chronic medical conditions are at higher risk for severe disease. People in these groups should discuss travel with a healthcare provider and consider postponing nonessential travel.
From the Boston Public Health Commission: Coronavirus Disease (Covid-19) Guidance (Mar. 16, 2020)
All higher-risk individuals should avoid large gatherings, limit time in public areas, and not congregate in groups. [...] All residents are urged to practice social distancing (about six feet away from other people) whenever possible.
From the USA Today Editorial Boards: Coronavirus: Florida's lack of testing, specific information jeopardizes public (Mar. 14, 2020)
posted by katra at 12:20 PM on March 16, 2020 [2 favorites]

From the Guardian: White House says to avoid gatherings larger than 10 people
The White House has now said Americans should avoid gatherings larger than 10 people in order to slow the spread of the virus.

Trump also said Americans should “avoid discretionary travel” as the administration tries to mitigate the virus’ spread.
posted by katra at 12:50 PM on March 16, 2020

My parents are making a similar drive soon. They are choosing to drive rather than fly so they can minimize actions. They also plan to sanitize their hotel rooms.
posted by notjustthefish at 6:58 PM on March 16, 2020

fwiw, I have some experience with driving across America with another person, before all of this started, and one thing we did to save time was have one person sleep while the other person drove, so we never really stopped except for essentials. From a risk-reduction standpoint, maybe that is something to consider for necessary travel (despite health experts advocating for internal travel restrictions). Maybe pack simple meals and beverages to take with you, use strict hygiene practices (WHO) at gas stations and rest stops, and maintain social distance.

I know I link to this article a lot, but it is one of the most comprehensive overviews about social distancing from an expert that I've seen, and I'm linking to it here because it talks about the trade off between convenience and safety in an empathetic way: Comprehensive Social Distancing Is Difficult And Necessary. Here's How To Keep Your Family Safe (Asaf Bitton, MD, MPH, WBUR) (via Harvard Chan School of Public Health)

Also, WaPo has published This is everywhere you should be sanitizing in your hotel (Mar. 13, 2020), but past reports, including from the Guardian, suggest that hotels can be a potential risk, both for transmission and quarantines (Sac Bee / MSN, Mar. 11, 2020). This may also be something to consider as hospitals around the country prepare for a surge, e.g. Atlanta (AJC), Dallas (Dallas Morning News), Oregon (AP / MSN, "as early as this week, but most certainly next week").

also, fyi I reorganized the Medical/Pandemic section at the MeFi Wiki Disaster & Recovery page today to make the informational resources easier to find quickly
posted by katra at 10:19 AM on March 17, 2020

You mention it in the headline, but not the body - have they considered a train?

For example, the Silver Meteor leaves Miami at 8:10 AM Friday (it also stops in Orlando, and there are options from Tampa as well), and arrives in South Station at 5:30 PM Saturday. Cost is around $750. There is a transfer; the first 24 hours would be your parents in a private room to themselves, the last 5 hours would be in a business class seat, which is much more spaced out than economy airplane seats are. Unfortunately, the transfer is two hours in NYC Penn Station, which is probably not a great idea.

However, they could book two separate trips, one to somewhere smaller than (and south of) NYC, and one on to Boston; for instance, they could book the Silver Meteor into Trenton, then a NE Regional from Trenton to Boston. It's the same two trains, but the transfer would be two hours in Trenton which I'm sure is much quieter than Penn Station. Unfortunately, it's a little more expensive to book the combo individually - $930. And it's possible one would be cancelled and not the other, which would mean they were out the cash for at least one leg. (Perhaps if they called Amtrak, they could book the two combined with the transfer in a quieter station.)
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 10:52 AM on March 17, 2020

How much would your parents like to do the road-trip in an RV -- so you control the places you interact with other people and sanitise the place you sleep once?
posted by k3ninho at 4:00 PM on March 17, 2020

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