Should I travel or not? Covid edition
January 5, 2022 11:52 AM   Subscribe

I’m double vaccinated, due to take my booster in late Jan. I’m currently in country X and due to return back to the UK next week. I’ve just seen that the UK’s taken away the requirement to have a PCR test before a flight if you’re double vaccinated. My flight back to the UK is 14 hours long. I’m terrified at the thought of sitting in a plane for 14 hours around people who potentially have omicron. Should I delay my departure?

I am in my mid-30s, work remotely so I have no pressing need to be back in the UK and can stay on here with my best friend/extended family. The cases in country X are reasonably high but the situation is not as dire as it is in the UK. Not yet anyway. More importantly, the case load is rather high in the city I’ll be flying out from.

I terrified at the thought of being exposed for hours (I’ll be double masked on the flight - a cloth mask and a well fitting N99 over it) and potentially developing long covid because I had ME/CFS related issues a couple years ago.
posted by bigyellowtaxi to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If you have any way to delay until (10 days after) you're boosted, definitely do so.
posted by Dashy at 12:01 PM on January 5, 2022 [2 favorites]

If you don't need to be there then it's probably better not to go at this time. There will probably be omicron on the flight, but your masks will probably protect you, as long as you keep both of them on for 14 anxious, uncomfortable hours; then when you get home every sniffle & throat tickle you feel will be making you crazy. It sounds miserable to me.
posted by bleep at 12:02 PM on January 5, 2022 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: I think I should add that I am not eligible for a booster here (not a resident or citizen of this country) and I can only take it when I’m back in the UK.
posted by bigyellowtaxi at 12:03 PM on January 5, 2022

Just in case "a cloth mask and a well fitting N99 over it" is not a typo: If/when you go, you should wear the N99 under your cloth mask. If you wear it over a cloth mask the N99 will have a terrible seal.
posted by caek at 12:06 PM on January 5, 2022 [30 favorites]

Omicron cases seem to be peaking pretty quickly everywhere, so if you have the option to wait until they're steeply dropping where you are, I would wait. They already may have peaked in the UK.
posted by pinochiette at 12:07 PM on January 5, 2022 [2 favorites]

If you can stay until the omicron wave is past, I'd do that. Travel will almost certainly expose you to it, and even N95s only go so far on a 14-hr flight.

There was a flight from South Africa to Netherlands where at least 60 people ended testing up positive, and I'd bet at least a few of those were wearing N95s.
posted by Dashy at 12:09 PM on January 5, 2022 [2 favorites]

If there's no pressing need to get back, and you can keep yourself pretty isolated while you wait to go home and get your booster, I'd stay. Remember it's not just the 14 hours in flight, but the hours you're sitting in the airport before and after, plus potentially delayed or cancelled flights if the airlines have too many sick calls. My 3 hour flight was a 9 hour process.

I had to fly home just as the omicron wave was beginning in the place I was leaving, to my not-so-covidy home location, and I made it through in good health, but the anxiety of being around so many other people and the following 10 days of anxiety and rapid-testing were pretty unpleasant. If I could have waited, I would have, just for that.
posted by assenav at 12:10 PM on January 5, 2022 [4 favorites]

When was your last dose?
Antibody tests are useful as well if you have access to any in your country.
posted by aielen at 12:20 PM on January 5, 2022

Planes are one of the safest indoor environments to be in WRT covid.

Masks for covid aren't perfect - that's why we are usually wary of transmission with people in close proximity of us. However, we know now that covid spreads both through larger droplets that masks would stop, and a very fine mist of droplets called aerosols. The jury is still out on which to be more worried about, but both have been causal factors.

One thing that's getting a lot of buzz in the study of Covid spread is that the distance isn't as important - those aerosols can hang in the air, long after someone has left the room. A situation like an unventilated elevator is especially dangerous, because people let their guard down if they are the only ones inside.

But, Planes are basically vertical elevators, right? Planes circulate their air 20-30 times per hour with the outside and through HEPA filters. The air on planes is some of the cleanest air around. When people talk about dangers of travelling, they have usually focused on airports, and jetbridges, with stuffy air or little ventilation, not the planes themselves.

So, if I were you, I would try to wear an N95 the entire time. But, personally, I would rather be on a plane with a mask on for 10 hours, than in an elevator with a mask on for 2 minutes. Turn on that little cabin air blower.

When in doubt, isn't updated for omicron yet, but it's best to put your worries into that calculator to help make decisions with hard numbers. To adapt it for omicron, I'd just indicated that you and other passengers aren't vaccinated.
posted by bbqturtle at 12:57 PM on January 5, 2022 [4 favorites]

Are you able to access health care in that country if you need it? Is the system comparable to home for you? That could be one consideration, as well as your estimate of the riskiness of the friend/family members. Are any of them spending a lot of time out of the home with a lot of potential exposure?

Airplanes do have great air filtration, but I hear you on wanting to wait til this current wave passes. We also don't know what else is coming. Traveling right now does add risk.

Also, are you sure about wearing an N99 over a cloth mask? I think that's ... exactly wrong. Double masking is an approach with a surgical mask (poorly fitting but well-filtering) and a cloth mask (better fitting but not as well-filtering), where the cloth mask gives a snugger fit over a better-filtering surgical mask.

But an N95 needs to be against your face, so I'm guessing an N99 does too. In any case, please do read up on that before you take that approach.
posted by bluedaisy at 1:12 PM on January 5, 2022 [5 favorites]

We took a 7 hour flight and wore 2 kn95 masks on top of each other, and neither of us contracted COVID (we are boosted, though). It was uncomfortable on the ears after awhile but manageable. Ymmv.
posted by erattacorrige at 1:20 PM on January 5, 2022

The tone of your question suggests to me that you would prefer to remain in country X for longer and that it would not be horribly inconvenient for you to do so.

Conversely, you say that you are "terrified at the thought of being exposed for hours" on the long flight.

So, my reading of your question says to me that you want to wait for the omicron wave to pass prior to traveling. Based on what you've written, it seems like a pretty reasonable decision to me.
posted by theorique at 1:33 PM on January 5, 2022 [12 favorites]

I would fly, but it does seem like you're looking for an excuse to stay.

Do not wear a mask under your "well fitting N99".
posted by knapah at 2:01 PM on January 5, 2022 [5 favorites]

taken away the requirement to have a PCR test before a flight if you’re double vaccinated.

If this is the thing holding you up, my impression of everything of late is that just because you got a PCR test before a flight sadly doesn't mean you may not be exposed to someone coming down with it a few hours later on the plane anyway :/

I really hate to argue for "go" because I wouldn't want to myself, BUT it's probably more important that you get boosted at some point if you can't get it done in Country X, and the people I know who are flying around these days so far haven't come down with Covid from the flight (one of them did after arriving and staying with her mother in NYC, I would assume NYC is more to blame there). We don't know if it's going to get any better or possibly even worse if you wait around, or if your ability to fly from Country X to the UK is going to be taken away because of future travel bans. Or if you're going to catch it in Country X while not being boosted and waiting around anyway.
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:01 PM on January 5, 2022

If it weren’t for the booster I’d say to stay put, but this is a tough one - getting you back to somewhere you can be boosted is important. Unless you can stay quite isolated in a bubble indefinitely in the place you are now, I think I would prioritize getting back to the UK pretty soon.

So then it’s just a question of whether case loads are likely to be significantly better or worse, say, three weeks from now if you postpone a bit. Hard to say without knowing where you are. I might stay put a couple of weeks and hope to miss the worst of the post holiday case surge, but I don’t know how realistic that is.
posted by Stacey at 2:21 PM on January 5, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If the only reason you have to go to the UK is to get a booster shot, a plane trip and then a stay in the UK and then a plane home equals exposing yourself to multiple risks in order to do something that will reduce your risk. No one can calculate the exact odds - but that sounds rather like having some unprotected sex with a person who can get you access to long-acting birth control. It’s not a choice that I would make. If you don’t want to get sick, the first and best choice you can make at any time is to not put yourself in places where people are or could be sick.
posted by rrrrrrrrrt at 2:22 PM on January 5, 2022 [1 favorite]

Gently, the test wasn’t protecting you. I was on a 10 hr flight yesterday, with a testing requirement within 72 hrs of departure and my test was within 71 hrs of departure - mainly because I was concerned about turnaround times. It is absolutely possible that I have since developed an asymptomatic breakthrough infection (at least in theory). And based on my scanning the requirements for my trip, people connecting to other countries through my destination didn’t even need a test.

If you want to stay put, stay put. But the reintroduction of a pre departure test in November could at best delay local omicron spread and that ship has sailed.

For what it’s worth, the worst transmission risk I had during my trip was on the shuttle bus from the car rental place to the terminal. Everywhere else people at least tried to give each other space and were diligent about masks but that bus was packed and half the folks were not wearing their masks properly.
posted by koahiatamadl at 3:33 PM on January 5, 2022 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I came here to say what koahiatamadl said, so +1 to that. The removal of the test hasn't really, at this point in time, changed how likely you are to be exposed on a flight like that.

If you do decide to go, or in the future in general, note that it's recommended to swap out a KN95 after 4 - 8 hours of continuous use for the best possible protection. A KN95 and a cloth mask over the top, provided they're both fitted well and there's a good seal, is really the best possible protection you could get. The chances of the virus getting through that are much smaller than you probably think they are.

If being in the UK is important in terms of getting boosted and resuming your life, it may be worth the risk. If you're able to and it feels more comfortable, you could take a gamble on waiting a couple of weeks, but at this point (as someone in the UK) it looks like the situation may last into February.

(Also, tangentially, you used the word "terrified" a couple of times to describe yourself in this post. Are you taking good care of your mental health? It's just as important to take care of your emotional/mental health as it is your physical wellbeing. It may be helpful for you to take steps to reduce your pandemic anxiety as well and try to stay away from the urge to keep doomscrolling.)
posted by fight or flight at 3:42 PM on January 5, 2022 [2 favorites]

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