What are my chances of catching COVID-19 while traveling?

Many of our customers are turning to us wondering just how risky it is to travel which is why we’ve collated some of the most up-to-date research...

Yoav Rosenberg
September 3, 2020

As companies begin contemplating the benefits and risks of traveling, many of our customers are turning to us wondering just how risky it is. That is why we’ve collated some of the most up-to-date research to better understand the level of risk involved.

Seeing as how the risks involved with each destination changes regularly (which you can also access live via the TravelSuit platform), for now we will focus on: (1) Transport (2) Flights (3) Hotels


Transport

Taking a car or taxi to the airport is  low-risk as your exposure is limited to anyone else in the car and many taxicabs now have a separating plastic screen between the passenger and driver, but what about trains?

A study released on July 29th by the Oxford University Press examined just that.

In order to judge the risk of infection, the researchers examined 2,300 sick passengers, and then used a grid system, studying a further 72,000 passengers at different distances from those infected. They found that sitting adjacent to a sick passenger held the highest chance of being infected, but still was only 3.5%. For the overall test group who sat within 3 rows and five columns of the infected passenger, there was an average infection rate of 0.32%. The length of the trip also played a part, with the chance of infection rising between 0.15% - 1.3% per hour of travel, depending on distance from the infected passenger.

During this study, no measures for social distancing, personal hygiene, or reduced capacity, were being taken on the train but its conclusions show the effect that these precautions can have on your chance of being infected. 

Although no coronavirus outbreaks in many major cities since May have been attributed to trains/subways, we recommend adhering to any precautions taken on your chosen rail provider and socially distance/wash your hands where possible.


Flights

A study by an MIT professor examines the chances of being infected with coronavirus on 2 hour domestic flights in the United States.

Without consideration of whether your flight has an infected flyer or not (this isn’t something you would know yourself), the study estimates the chance to be infected at 0.023% (or, 1 in 4300) aboard a plane at full capacity. However, if your airline is one of those that has taped off middle seats, your chances drop drastically at about 0.012% (or, 1 in 7700).

A 2018 study examining the rate of infection for a flu-like virus on slightly longer flights determined that sitting in the window seat would give you the highest chance of avoiding an infected passenger on the flight, as passengers in the window seat get up less and have less contact with other passengers (as seen below).

KENNEDY ELLIOTT, NG STAFF. ART BY TAYLOR MAGGIACOMO.SOURCES: HOWARD WEISS, PENNSYLVANIA STATE UNIVERSITY; VICKI HERTZBERG, EMORY UNIVERSITY


Similarly to the train, adhering to guidelines on social distancing and hygiene should lower your chances of infection even further.


Hotels

Whether staying in a hotel or an Airbnb, hygiene is key, as shown in a study recently published by the CDC. 

The study examined multiple objects in the hotel room of asymptomatic Covid-19 carriers. They discovered that the surfaces with the most ‘virus sheddings’ were towels, bed sheets, pillow-cases, and similar linens used by the carriers, more so than on other surfaces like door handles, remote controls and thermostats. The good news is that the ‘higher-risk’ surfaces are those that are most routinely changed and cleaned between guests. 

In fact, the public areas of the hotel are higher risk than the rooms themselves due to much more interaction with other people who could potentially be infectious. For this reason, hotels all over the world are implementing social distancing measures, are increasing their standard cleaning practices, and some are even closing their common areas (unless they can be adapted accordingly).

No matter what accommodation you choose, it is recommended that you find out more about what they do to clean in between guests, and you may want to bring some disinfectant wipes yourself to cover all your bases.

Keep up to date

As shown by some recent studies, en route to your destination shouldn’t be a frightening affair. Having said that, new information, data, and studies are being released every day. It’s of the utmost importance to be alert to new developments in order to be able to weigh your benefits and risks properly and accurately to make your next trip as worry-free as possible.


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