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How to road trip in a pandemic: Tips for your holiday weekend travels

Gas prices are down, people are leery of flying and road-tripping is expected to be big this summer, even in a pandemic. How do you try to stay safe on the road?
Even in a pandemic, Americans are expected to take 700 million trips this summer, much of it by car.
Even in a pandemic, Americans are expected to take 700 million trips this summer, much of it by car. [ Associated Press ]
Published Jul. 1, 2020
Updated Jul. 1, 2020

Headed home after a long road trip, the Tobin family of St. Petersburg had just crossed the Florida-Georgia line Saturday and was greeted by a “Welcome To Florida” sign.

Then, because of coronavirus concerns, orange cones narrowed traffic to a crawl.

State workers in masks and safety vests made inquires of drivers: Where did you come from? Where are you going? The Tobins were handed a clipboard and asked to fill out a three-page form.

“They wanted to know the names of each of the people in the car and their dates of birth and phone contact information,” said Tom Tobin, a topics editor at the Tampa Bay Times.

Welcome to road-tripping in the time of a pandemic, just in time for the busy Fourth of July weekend.

How’s a traveler to stay safe?

Based on state re-openings and economic indicators, Americans are expected to take 700 million trips this summer, according to the AAA 2020 Summer Forecast Report. As the coronavirus rages on, people remain leery of air travel, which is expected to be down about 74 percent. The vast majority of trips, about 97 percent, are expected to be by car, AAA says.

“You have that comfort of being in your own vehicle,” said Mark Jenkins, spokesman for AAA - The Auto Club Group. “You know how clean it is, and you know who you’re traveling with.”

Add this: Gas cost an average of $2.18 a gallon nationally as of Wednesday. Despite recent price increases, that is down about 50 cents from this time last year. Florida was faring better, with an average of $2.10 a gallon.

For those willing to travel, that could spell road trip.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cautions that “because travel increases your chances of getting infected and spreading COVID-19, staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others from getting sick.”

But if you go, the CDC offers tips on its website, cdc.gov. For overnight traveling, it suggests calling ahead to check hotels for precautions such as masks requirements for staff and Plexiglas barriers at check-in. If you’re hosting a cookout, the site suggests “keeping a list of guests who attended for potential future contact tracing needs.”

Here are some tips if you hit the road:

Plan ahead: Road-trippers can get information on the coronavirus situation along their route and at their destination in all 50 states by checking with state or local health departments listed on the CDC’s website. You also can keep an eye on the number of cases and deaths by state at the CDC’s Covid Data Tracker map.

And you can check out AAA’s Covid-19 Travel Restrictions Map for the rules on the areas you’ll be traveling through and to, including places that have reopened but have mask requirements.

For summer travel, don't forget your masks and hand sanitizer.
For summer travel, don't forget your masks and hand sanitizer. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]

Bring plenty of hand sanitizer, preferably containing at least 60 percent alcohol, and keep it handy. (The Tobins kept a large bottle in the car they used for everything from their hands to cleaning the debit card they used at a Wendy’s drive-thru.) Pack disinfectant wipes and other cleaning products. And don’t forget your insurance cards.

Beware the “toilet plume,” a cloud of droplets that can rise when a toilet is flushed and land on surfaces or stay around long enough to be inhaled by the next user in a public bathroom, according to a recent New York Times report headlined “Flushing the Toilet May Fling Coronavirus Aerosols All Over.”

Look for bigger bathrooms with multiple stalls, and wait at least a minute before entering an area someone else just used. Limit touching anything, and get out of there fast. Use your hand sanitizer.

Book it: If you plan to stay at a hotel, don’t take a chance on finding a roadside place along the way. Make a reservation.

Find out ahead of time what precautions hotels and businesses are taking.
Find out ahead of time what precautions hotels and businesses are taking. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

Pack snacks: Experts advise opting for drive-thrus over sit-down restaurants. And if you really want to limit on-the-road interaction, consider packing your own snacks. Avoid sticky foods, nuts with shells and cheese puffs that can make the car gross.

Do your homework: Call ahead to make sure parks, attractions, beaches, restaurants and other places you want to visit when you get there are open. Keep in mind that some places may have capacity limits.

Keep doing what we know we’re supposed to be doing: The CDC says the now-familiar protections should apply on the road, too: Wash your hands a lot, wear your mask in public and cover your coughs and sneezes.

Says Jenkins: “You just want to take every precaution you can.”

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