coronavirus road trip best practices
July 8, 2020 1:22 PM   Subscribe

A family member suggested a road trip over Labor Day weekend. I'm trying to determine feasibility and wondering if there are things I'm not thinking about.

I live in New Hampshire with my wife and kids. My mom and sister live in Ohio. They usually fly up to visit a couple of times a year, but that's not happening this year for obvious reasons. But my mom asked about potentially driving to meet somewhere in between, which would be in the Finger Lakes region. I'm trying to decide if this would be a good idea or not.

Neither group is in a particularly hard-hit area. Cases are falling in our part of New Hampshire, and their part of Ohio is small enough that there were never very many cases to begin with. That said, we're both taking precautions. We all work from home. Although we've gone out slightly more since reopening, we're primarily going out for grocery shopping and other essential errands, and we always wear masks the entire time we're out. Our kids are in daycare, but the daycare is taking precautions as well: staff wear masks, no adults are allowed in the building, and anyone entering (even the infants) get their temperatures taken.

We would be renting a whole-house Airbnb. It seems like there's a pretty good selection of no-contact Airbnbs in the region, so aside from a grocery trip, we wouldn't have to really interact with anyone at the destination (and we'd even be bringing a lot of food with us, so maybe we wouldn't need the grocery trip).

My mom owns a commercial cleaning side business, so she has access to disinfectants and would be willing to wipe down surfaces in the house before anyone else went in, as well as cleaning up after we leave.

When driving west, we generally avoid the Mass Pike anyway and take Route 2 through Massachusetts. My mom and sister would take 71 around Cleveland and hit the Thruway in Buffalo. We could use drive-thus or bring food to eat, so we wouldn't have to go inside anywhere to eat. The only reason that I could see we'd need to get out of the car is to use the bathroom. As it happens, we have a training potty from when our daughter was potty-training that we keep in the car already for things like hiking, where there's not always a bathroom at a trailhead. We could use that so as to avoid going into public restrooms. (Our son is still in diapers.) My mom and sister would still need to use public restrooms on the drive, but it seems to me that, as long as they're using a single-toilet gas station bathroom and not one of the massive Thruway rest stop ones, that the risk would be fairly low.

The idea, once we arrive, is to basically stay at the house. We'd be looking for something with a lot of amenities - lake access, walking paths, a yard for activities - so that we could entertain ourselves and not depend on going anywhere.

When I say all that, it seems like we've got a pretty low risk of either bringing the virus with us or catching it while we're there. But I feel like there are things I'm not taking into account. Unknown unknowns, as Donald Rumsfeld would say. So I figure the best thing to do is to get as much input as possible; hence, you guys. What am I missing? Is there something we could do to minimize our exposure even more?

Note that this is early in the planning stages. Nothing has been booked and everyone is willing to walk away if we can't keep things safe.
posted by kevinbelt to Travel & Transportation (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Ask has definitely leaned into the "if you have to ask, the answer is no" camp but I'm in the middle of a road trip to visit 70+ year old sets of parents:

-My wife and I got tested then quarantined (to the level of March) this is nyc. there may be higher risk to get tested, but if drive through testing exists where you are I would all do that
-We got our negative tests then went on the road (we had prepared to sleep in tents and social distance)
-We only have several 4 hour drives, so haven't stopped to eat (I just peed on the side of a enormous rest stop) and we brought water and things
posted by sandmanwv at 1:48 PM on July 8, 2020 [1 favorite]

This seems pretty reasonable, and my general advice, as a random internet person, is that I would probably consider doing this do, with a few specific suggestions:

1. Bring as much food as you can with you, to limit the stops you need to make and your demand on stores in small towns.

2. Keep an eye on cases in your area and your family's area. Be willing to cancel at the last minute. Don't pay for something you can't afford to lose (AirBnB doesn't always have great cancellation policies, so check on this before you pay. Read the fine print and only book this if you're totally okay with the possibility of not going and not getting your money back.)

3. Take the fastest route possible to get there via driving.

4. And, finally, for the week or two before you all leave, severely limit your activities out of the house: get grocery delivery, for example, and stick closer to home than you have been. Is it at all possible to take your kids out of daycare for a week or so before your trip? I know that's a real challenge. Does someone have vacation time coming up they could use?
posted by bluedaisy at 1:57 PM on July 8, 2020 [2 favorites]

I know many people who have similar plans. I think you could reduce risk by planning to drive at lower-traffic times (reducing the risk of an accident/busy stops) and by planning far ahead with your shopping, and getting tested enough ahead of the trip that you would get results before departure. If you really wanted to be strict, do a big grocery haul, start isolating (as if you were quarantined), get tested a couple days later, keep isolating, get the results of your test, and then depart with enough groceries to last the stay.

You also want a backup plan in place for if someone develops symptoms right before the trip, where everyone agrees that symptoms = stay home. It might help to work out what would happen with cost in that case (you wouldn’t want someone to be afraid or hesitant for any reason to cancel).
posted by sallybrown at 2:00 PM on July 8, 2020

I'd do what you're proposing if everyone got tested and did a serious quarantine between getting the test and leaving.

I had an opportunity to take a similar vacation in the same region (carry in all food, only a five hour drive, so I could do it without stopping), but I ended up not only because the friends we would be meeting were all flying in, and I wasn't comfortable with that exposure (I have a high risk household member). But if they had been driving and we had all gotten tested before we left, I would have done it in a second.
posted by gideonfrog at 2:09 PM on July 8, 2020 [1 favorite]

I would probably only do this if everyone got tested, got negative results, and FULLY quarantined (e.g. no vectors - no daycare, no grocery shopping, no going out, nothing) between the test and the travel.
posted by juniperesque at 2:20 PM on July 8, 2020 [3 favorites]

Well, the worst case scenario is that one of your kids is exposed by an asymptomatic carrier and infects the rest of you. In most children, temping appears to be checking the barn door after the cows are already out. Are you okay with that risk, knowing that the likelihood of that is pretty much unknowable?

Or, the worst case scenario is one of y'all gets it somehow and gives it to the rest, including your kids, with nobody presenting symptoms until after they go back to daycare.

Or the worst case scenario is one of you has a car accident on the way or an injury onsite and has to be in contact with medical personnel/facilities.

I have a lot of concerns about the validity of testing at this point, the crappier of the two most available ("available") tests was the rapid-approved one that has an accuracy in the 84ish percent range, but people are treating them like gospel/free passes to immediately go play. I would plan on 14-day quarantines in the case of any potential exposure.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:30 PM on July 8, 2020 [1 favorite]

Assuming you are comfortable with the risk, you might want to book early -- short-term rentals are very popular this summer.

Also, get as many bathrooms as you can, because that'll reduce your exposure to each other.

Ask your mom and sister if they'd be up for wearing adult diapers on the drive.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 2:38 PM on July 8, 2020

I have a friend who just returned from a very similar trip over the long weekend. A few things that happened that they weren’t expecting:

- the family member they were meeting invited a third person to hang out with them without ever mentioning it; third person has been working in a higher-risk job, and friend was too startled to ask questions about their risk practices

- even at the single gas station stop required, they felt very uneasy - no one else was wearing masks and they were the recipient of comments that made them uncomfortable

- they’d agreed in advance on one grocery trip only but their family ended up deciding to go on multiple trips and would not be dissuaded

They’re home now and putting themself in a more intensive quarantine than planned because they feel they were more exposed than they’d intended to be. Probably it will be fine, but they’re uneasy about how it turned out despite taking very sensible precautions.

Which is not saying don’t do it, just saying it would be worth being very explicit about your plans with your family, even to the point of confirming things that seem like common sense, to be sure you’re on the same page. And to plan for what to do if things go sideways. With those conversations under your belt you can make an informed decision. I wouldn’t do it, but your situation isn’t mine and it sounds like you can take some sensible precautions that will help somewhat.
posted by Stacey at 2:58 PM on July 8, 2020 [6 favorites]

For rest stops, a possibility is a pop-up changing tent and a portable toilet or a disposable urinal for both women and men.

When you get to the rental, your first step should be to fling open all the windows and doors to air the place out, in case of lingering aerosols from somebody's cough or whatever. Second should be to go around and wipe all high-touch areas, such as doorknobs, light switches, faucet handles, toilet flush handles, drawer pulls, and cabinet door handles, with disinfecting wipes.
posted by chromium at 3:14 PM on July 8, 2020 [2 favorites]

So I figure the best thing to do is to get as much input as possible; hence, you guys. What am I missing?

I suggest that you review the FPP about US news and the coronavirus to help fill in some of the "unknown unknowns" from the perspective of public health experts, including about the current strain on testing, contact tracing, PPE, disproportionately impacted groups, and hospitals, as well as concerns related to travel and quarantines, and the difficult choices that everyone may be making this summer.
posted by katra at 6:00 PM on July 8, 2020 [2 favorites]

We did something similar in June, before daycare opened, and we're going to do it again in August. Two things that we're planning on doing:

1. Pull kid out of daycare a week before to give us a 7-10 day full quarantine. It's going to suck, but it feels like a necessary step.
2. Have a full discussion about our activities when we get there. We were going to a place where there was other family, and we had to have extensive negotiations about who could show up and how. Even then, a family member came for a 'social distance visit' and then sat down for dinner with the group. My mom kept wanting to pop into stores for little things like yeast or pepto-bismal or whatever. Boundaries. They're hard.

The drive itself was fine. We put the mostly potty trained kid in diapers and brought the training potty. The adults used a gas station restroom at a stop where everyone was masked, and we just went in and out fast. We brought our own food. That all felt ok.

We didn't really have a plan for if something went wrong on the 6-7hr drive. I'm not sure what that plan would be, but we probably should have had one. We do have a full emergency kit, including jumper cables, in the trunk.
posted by oryelle at 6:00 AM on July 10, 2020

I forgot to add that we are still deciding whether to keep kid out of daycare for a week after we return. If we stay a full two weeks with the exact same group, and if we have extremely limited contact on the return drive, we may not do that quarantine. But we probably will. Many of the daycare teachers, even at our high quality daycare, are members of vulnerable groups and have fewer resources than we do. We want to be very careful that we don't increase the risks that they are taking when they come to work every day.
posted by oryelle at 6:13 AM on July 10, 2020

I took a short road trip a couple weeks ago to go camping; it was fine. I have plans to do something similar, but with a longer drive, in a airbnb later this month. We plan to bring food with us so as to minimize stopping, and always mask when there is a need to stop. The airbnb host emphasizes their cleaning practices, and we do plan to air out the house as much as is practical when we get there.

On a risk scale, this is a lower-risk activity, but of course, there is still some risk. You have to decide what your own risk tolerance is, but with the numbers in my area currently rather low, it feels fine to me personally right now.
posted by woodvine at 1:01 PM on July 10, 2020

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