COVID and Domestic Travel in Canada
November 19, 2020 9:01 AM   Subscribe

I am tentatively planning to temporarily move from across Canada for the winter and have some questions about how to do it most safely.

tl;dr questions:
1. Between now and Christmas, is there likely to be a better time to travel domestically by air in Canada?
2. How risky is air travel and what do I need to do to mitigate that risk?

I live in Ontario, alone in an apartment, in a city where I don't have any family or friends close enough to consider me part of their bubble. About every two weeks, a friend comes over and we go for a distanced walk outside, but neither one of us tolerates cold well so that will almost certainly not happen in the winter. I work from home because of COVID and don't go outside for basically any other reason, and everything I need is brought to me through contact-less delivery. This is great for not catching COVID, but not great for not catching depression, and I've started to miss occasional days of work because I can't force myself out of bed in the morning.

So enter the prospect of moving "home" to Vancouver for the winter. My immediate family all lives there in multi-generational house that could, barely, squeeze me in and then I would have people around me and not be so awfully alone all the time. The weather would be nicer if I wanted to go outside, and my mother would make me go outside. My employer doesn't mind, and in fact, I wouldn't even be the first person on our team to just move to Vancouver until they call us back into the office.

I could go any time, but there are minor reasons why it would be easier for me if I waited until about mid-December. But then I wonder, is the trajectory of COVID in Canada bad enough right now that if I wait until Mid-December it might not be possible to fly domestically anymore? Or will the risk be much higher then? I would likely book a one way ticket and then come back in the spring or before that only if something happens to really change the COVID situation for the better and I have to return to the office.

How risky is flying? It's five hours in the air with strangers, but Canadian airlines are enforcing mask wearing, and I've read that airplane air doesn't actually really recirculate much? So maybe the risk isn't crazy high? Obviously, the ideal situation would be that I quarantine for 14 days after the flight, but that will be difficult and expensive if it's not really necessary because there is nowhere I could isolate within the home. Must I quarantine on arrival given that the only risk is the flight itself?

As a household, they are way more loosey-goosey about things than I am to start with, so I feel like the risk is more about them giving it to me, unless the air travel risk is quite high. I'm also the highest risk person, just because I am the least healthy and have asthma, so it's mostly me taking risk on myself.

If possible, please resist the urge to tell me not to do this - I am looking for information on how and when to do it most safely. I'm not just hoping to see my family for a few days at Christmas, I feel this is truly necessary for my mental health.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (11 answers total)
There is not a requirement to quarantine for domestic travel within Canada. I would travel as far outside of peak travel times as possible, ideally now and return well after the new year. (Well, as soon as you can get a reasonably priced ticket - probably a week or two from now) My wife recently flew Vancouver-Toronto and the plane was not very full and the airports were extremely empty. I suggest not drinking a lot before the flight, wearing a high-quality, tight-fitting N95 mask and just staying in your seat for the duration. If you're feeling wealthy, business-class ticket prices are as low as they've ever been which gives you a little more interpersonal distance. My personal opinion is that it's not zero risk but that with precautions the risk is reasonable.

That said, safe airplane travel is somewhat of a tragedy of the commons - it's only safe if very few people are doing it. I think your reasons are fine, but as more people travel towards the holidays the risk will increase.

Good luck.
posted by GuyZero at 9:17 AM on November 19 [1 favorite]

Fly sooner rather than later (try as hard as you can to miss all Christmas- and New Year-adjacent dates), business class if you can, and if one of your nonstop flight options is hideously inconvenient to any sane individual (eg: 3am departure) then maybe try for that one.
posted by aramaic at 9:36 AM on November 19 [1 favorite]

I doubt that it will become impossible to travel by air domestically -- I haven't seen any serious proposals for restricting inter-provincial travel.

In terms of safety, I don't know how crowded flights are at the moment, but I can only imagine they will get increasingly crowded between now and Christmas, as more and more people travel for the holidays. So the sooner you leave the better.

Regarding quarantine, keep in mind that it's not a 14-days-or-nothing proposition -- even a shorter quarantine would decrease risk. Maybe a 14-day quarantine isn't possible for you, but would it be possible to quarantine for 7 days?
posted by mekily at 9:37 AM on November 19 [1 favorite]

I don't think we know what the trajectory of covid will be, nor -- just as important -- what the people in charge will do. Here in Alberta, we've had cases spike for over a month, and the strongest thing Kenney has chosen to do is a two week ban on indoor singing (!).

I concur with the others; go as quickly as possible -- there will be people travelling for the holidays who absolutely shouldn't, and avoiding the rush will avoid them.

It's about mitigation of risk, not absolute avoidance. An N95 mask is better than a homemade mask is better than no mask; just because a cloth mask doesn't prevent everything doesn't make it useless. Similar with the quarantine; this is a good look at the progress of a covid infection -- the period when people are infectious but not showing symptoms is the worrying one. The 14 days is chosen to be as safe as reasonable (and easy to remember and apply).

Shorter quarantines do accomplish something. This paper, linked by this CDC summary suggests that after a 14 day quarantine, only 1 in 10,000 people who will develop symptoms won't be showing them yet. If you can quarantine for 7 to 10 days (and hotels are cheap these days), the majority of the time you'd show symptoms (if you were going to) -- about 80% of the time after 7 days, about 95% after 10 days. That's not as good as the 99.99% of 14 days, but it's not nothing. Short quarantines of under 5 days won't accomplish a lot, though. (Even if your family is living a higher risk life, your trip through the air travel system will expose you to a different risk pool than that your family is interacting with.)

Safe travels.
posted by Superilla at 10:17 AM on November 19 [2 favorites]

I haven't seen any serious proposals for restricting inter-provincial travel.

John Horgan just called on Trudeau to do this yesterday, and they're meeting soon to discuss it. Not sure if anything will come of it, but it's the most serious BC has gotten about it during the pandemic.
posted by Beardman at 11:43 AM on November 19 [1 favorite]

I haven't seen any serious proposals for restricting inter-provincial travel.

There is the Atlantic Bubble, which isn't a full restriction (i.e. flights) but does require a 14-day quarantine. There is also a serious travel ban into Nunavut - "Prior to boarding a plane into the territory, residents will undergo a mandatory 14-day isolation period in either Ottawa, Winnipeg, Edmonton or Yellowknife. At the end of the 14 days, asymptomatic residents will be cleared and provided a letter signed by the Chief Public Health Officer allowing them to return to their home community.

This also includes medical travel patients."

For the OP I would suggest that you travel as soon as you can and it's not crazy expensive, for a few reasons:
- in case there are further restrictions, such as a mandatory quarantine*
- because with the US travel holidays coming up there may be increased US travel and Air Canada does run flights to the US currently, so I would worry that AC staff are more likely to become ill/infected as that peak starts

I think there is a risk to flying but you've outlined very clearly good reasons for taking that risk.

Then we come to my * - I think the highest degree of good would be to quarantine on arrival for as long as you can afford. Does your family have anyone that they know of that has a basement suite or holiday property (even without a kitchen as people could bring you food/order in) that you could stay in or similar? And we know you can't test out of quarantine but in your case you would know the exact exposure date (your flight date) so you could look at booking a test on day 6 or 7 after that and if it's negative end the quarantine - again, not perfect but it's additional information.

Finally, you could mask up once you get home and take your meals separately for a period of quarantine as well...again it's another layer, not a perfect layer.
posted by warriorqueen at 12:25 PM on November 19

For what it’s worth, we’re expecting more restrictions to be announced later today. Vancouver proper has high enough rates to be worrying, but most cases are in Fraser health. So if you’re going to a suburb like Surrey, covid cases are a lot higher.

I don’t know if this should influence your decision, but you’re travelling to a place with too much community spread.
posted by Valancy Rachel at 12:41 PM on November 19

As you may know, BC cases have risen precipitously in the past few weeks. Officials are considering restricting travel, but it’s hard to say when or in what form. It does seem likely to happen very soon, to quell the precipitous rise.

I flew Vancouver-Toronto and back relatively recently and found the plane pretty empty the way there and quite full the way back. When the plane is as full as it was on the way back, there’s no way to properly distance—there are people right behind you, and if you go to the bathroom, you’re walking through a lot of people’s airspace. Some people are lax about masks—perhaps especially on planes because people who are flying at this time are generally not the type to be 99.9% vigilant about masks or community spread. I saw quite a few people chin diaper it for a long time, and a few people kept their noses out of their masks unless a flight attendant came by.

How to mitigate risk on the plane: Wear a high filtration mask like the kn95—or my preference, the kf94, which is far more comfortable and breathable while offering almost the same amount of filtration as the kn95 (sold at H-Mart, would recommend against buying online because of the risk of fakes). Make sure it fits well around your nose and is comfortable enough that you can wear it for five hours straight (minimum) without getting a headache/etc. Try to eat and hydrate before getting on the plane to minimize time spent without wearing a mask on the plane (many people will fully take off their masks and eat for a while during snack time). If people around you aren’t wearing their masks properly and you want them to (without a huge confrontation), consider telling a flight attendant on your way to the bathroom and remember to tell them the person’s seat number.

To mitigate risk of transmitting the virus to your family members once you arrive, I’m not sure there’s much you can do other than quarantine. If you can’t quarantine and feel that you must go for your mental health, I think you take the risk (with their permission) and prepare (emotionally and logistically) for the possibility that you may transmit the virus to them.
posted by saltypup at 1:28 PM on November 19 [1 favorite]

I would fly at the least popular time of day (like the first flight of the day, midweek, maybe) and buy a business class ticket if you can afford it. If possible, avoid eating or drinking anything on the plane so you can keep your mask on. Other people will definitely take theirs off to eat/drink. Avoid the airplane bathroom if possible. Avoid eating and drinking in the airport, again so you can keep your mask on. At least planes have good air filters. But yes, it is risky. I would definitely quarantine. You wouldn't want to possibly be responsible for someone getting sick, even if they're taking some risks otherwise.
posted by pinochiette at 6:51 PM on November 19

My partner has flown a couple times back and forth to Ottawa to our place in Vancouver (we own a place in Ottawa but were renting in Vancouver due to some family health stuff and got kind of stuck here; I've stayed here for the family stuff and he went back there to deal with his family stuff) and my mom flew back and forth in August to help my aunt move out here the flights have all been nigh deserted, particularly the one where he flew through the night. West Jet has been cancelling flights and rejigging schedules but even then they are usually nowhere near their maximum occupancy of like 30%.

BC's Public Health Officer generally treats us like adults and lets us know and reacts to ACTUAL ways people are getting the virus (which they know because they are taking contact tracing really seriously) and it is 1) indoor group high intensity classes and 2) social gatherings indoors. Restaurants, grocery stores and other retail are not common sources; flying is considered to be less risky than going to the grocery store. However, there are noted challenges particularly when people are living in full houses (see toward the end under the heading Lack of Space - not sure what "barely squeezing you in" entails, but something to consider if someone DOES get sick whether your family has space to separate).

Horgan has also said B.C. would not be implementing rules that would attempt to create a provincial 'bubble.' 'We want to make sure we have an approach to travel not inconsistent with citizenship,' he said."

I am travelling to Ottawa to spend a month at our condo over Christmas before my partner and I come back here to close out the winter and move out of the Vancouver apartment finally and my level of risk aversion to activities during the pandemic is medium-high yet my level of concern about flying is near zero. I particularly trust the public health officials in BC to have human best interests in mind; the ones in Ontario are goofs who have business interests at heart.
posted by urbanlenny at 9:21 PM on November 19

I just returned home from a flight to Ontario to see my parents. I'm currently on 14 day mandatory quarantine because I was in the unlucky rows of a confirmed case. No one contacted me that I was in close contact. Instead, I was proactive and closely watched the confirmed cases on domestic flights page on the Government of Canada website. If quarantining the full 14 days is impossible, maybe as others suggest quarantining for a few days until the info filters down if you were in an unlucky seat on the flight.

I also didn't remove my cloth mask throughout the flight (not even for a sip of water) but the fellow and his wife beside me were frequently nose-showing and chin bra-ing. My flights were very full, no room at all for distancing. I honestly thought the temp taking at security would keep me safe, but clearly cases are still getting through.

We are all human beings here trying to balance our physical and mental health, as well as our personal and societal responsibility. Be safe as you can and be kind to yourself.
posted by unlapsing at 11:38 AM on November 20 [3 favorites]

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