The Borneo Post (Sabah)

Is driving still safer than flying if you’re vaccinated?

- Natalie B. Compton

AS coronaviru­s vaccines roll out worldwide, many people seem to be wondering: “Can I travel after I’m vaccinated?”

According to a recent AAA survey, 45 million Americans are planning a family trip this spring. And the Transporta­tion Security Administra­tion has recorded more than 1 million people passing through airport security checkpoint­s for 11 days in a row.

But even with at least 82.8 million people having received one or both doses of the vaccine, we are still a long way from the pandemic’s end - or a true return to travel. The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention is still cautioning against nonessenti­al travel, even for those who are vaccinated. Last week at a news briefing, CDC director Rochelle Walensky said officials are worried about travellers who are letting their guard down and warned that the United States could face another coronaviru­s surge with relaxed precaution­s.

As we work through the second year of the pandemic, the question that plagued travellers in 2020 is back again: If we do travel, is it safer to fly or drive?

When we first posed the question to experts last year, it was clear that hitting the road was the preference. But as we navigate the mid-vaccine era, that sentiment may be changing.

Here’s what six doctors and infectious-disease specialist­s told us.

An infectious-diseases specialist says both methods still come with risk

With only about 12 per cent of the US population (and an exponentia­lly smaller fraction of the world) vaccinated so far, coronaviru­s continues to remain a worldwide risk for others no matter how you travel, says Krutika Kuppalli, an infectious­disease specialist at the Medical University of South Carolina.

“We want to protect people who are not vaccinated from getting covid,” she says.

Between flying and driving during the pandemic, Kuppalli says, her recommenda­tion depends on how far a traveller is going.

Flying will put you in close quarters with strangers for prolonged periods of time. But if your road trip is a long haul passes through areas with high infection rates, flying could ultimately be safer.

For either transporta­tion option, Kuppalli urges vaccinated travellers follow standard precaution­s like mask-wearing and social distancing, even if they feel protected.

An infectious-disease doctor says flying isn’t as dangerous as we thought last year

Paul Sax, the clinical director of the infectious diseases division at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, says while he understand­s why the CDC is still advising people to avoid travel, he thinks it is worth rememberin­g that flying isn’t as dangerous as we had originally worried.

“When you compare it to some other activities that people are doing pretty regularly, like going to restaurant­s or even places of worship, flying isn’t so bad because there’s a lot of ventilatio­n in the flight,” he says.

“Most of the people on the flight are wearing masks and not talking, and not singing and shouting.” Sax recommends that vaccinated travellers who are at high risk for severe coronaviru­s cases, like older people or those with comorbidit­ies, add eye protection to their travel PPE, with either goggles or a face shield.

A medical-school chair says flying comes with more variables than driving

Paul Chung, chair of health systems science at the Kaiser Permanente Bernard J. Tyson School of Medicine, says car travel comes with fewer variables than flying, where you are more likely to have uncontroll­ed environmen­ts.

“But you could certainly put yourself in a position with driving that is way worse and than taking a flight,” Chung says, citing risks like road tripping in a crowded car with people who are not vaccinated.

“Going through a pretty empty airport, a pretty empty airplane and straight to your friend’s house staying inside . . . that’s a totally different risk profile than somebody who’s going to be in the middle of LAX and flying on a completely packed plane to a giant festival.”

When deciding to fly or drive, travellers should think about how many people you’ll come in contact with along the way, and consider the risks involved, rememberin­g that “it’s not just about risks to yourself, but it’s also really about risks to others,” Chung says.

“You don’t know the degree to which you still remain a possible vector of the virus, even though you’re vaccinated.”

A public-health senior scholar says flying should be safe this summer

Tara Kirk Sell, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Centre for Health Security, recently calculated the risks of flying and driving cross-country for her family, who needed to move from Baltimore to Washington this month.

She factored in coronaviru­s risks, as well as basic road trip ones (such as car accidents) and ultimately chose to fly.

“For a vaccinated person, I certainly think that flying is probably safer than a crosscount­ry road trip,” Sell says.

Nonetheles­s, Sell recommends holding off on planning a vacation until later this year and avoiding nonessenti­al trips at this time, citing the potential to spread the virus to unvaccinat­ed people.

“Right at this at this very minute, the CDC is still saying that travel isn’t recommende­d because cases are high,” she says.

“But I expect this summer, as cases come down and vaccinatio­ns go up, I think it’s probably safe to fly.”

An academic physician and author is reassured about plane safety

Robert Wachter, chair of the department of medicine at the University of California at San Francisco and guest host of the podcast “In the Bubble,” says being in your car is just as safe as being inside your house.

“If you have been comfortabl­e going shopping, it’s not obvious to me what about a road trip would be different,” he says.

Wachter recognizes that while there has been coronaviru­s spread on flights, “planes overall have been quite safe during covid,” he says.

“I’m quite reassured about flying as a general mode.”

But he identifies meal service as a specific danger while on board.

Two factors made him feel comfortabl­e flying recently to see his vaccinated parents: being vaccinated in January and knowing the prevalence of coronaviru­s has been going down. The part of flying that Wachter is wary of is meal services when fellow passengers remove their masks, and he recommends fliers eat or drink quickly when others are masked.

A critical-care medicine specialist believes driving still wins over flying

Joseph Khabbaza, a critical-care medicine specialist at Cleveland Clinic, says he believes driving is always going to be a lower-risk travel option because you’ll be better able to avoid strangers.

“Stopping at a rest area or a hotel or to get a bite to eat on a long trip, those are not really going to have sustained contact with people you don’t know,” he says.

Khabbaza says while he is reassured by airplane ventilatio­n, he says those who choose to fly should take extra precaution­s, like wearing a face shield and booking low-volume, direct flights at offpeak times.

“I have always said you’ll never regret being too cautious during this pandemic,” he says.

“All I see and hear about is regret and guilt from the people who may have let their guard down or veered away from their usual precaution­s.” — The Washington Post

 ?? — AFP photo ?? A woman receives a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against the coronaviru­s at the Clermont-Tonnerre military hospital (HIA) in Brest, western France, on April 6, 2021, during a vaccinatio­n campaign to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.
— AFP photo A woman receives a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against the coronaviru­s at the Clermont-Tonnerre military hospital (HIA) in Brest, western France, on April 6, 2021, during a vaccinatio­n campaign to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.

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