Planning a road trip? Here are the pandemic precautions you should take
TORONTO -- With restrictions still in place on international travel, many Canadians may be considering a road trip this summer for a much-needed break from isolation at home.
But experts say a road trip during a pandemic requires careful planning and special considerations.
Calls from government and health officials to practice physical distancing and good hand hygiene apply to travelling just as they would to daily life. But extra supplies and stricter cleaning protocols are just a few additional things to consider when hitting the road.
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CTVNews.ca spoke with several experts to get their advice on how to stay safe while travelling by road.
The first thing to keep in mind is the need to plan ahead, said Kristine D'Arbelles, senior manager of public affairs for the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA). While this goes for every road trip you plan, it especially rings true during a pandemic, she says.
The Canada-U.S. border currently remains closed to non-essential travel. Additionally, some provinces have imposed their own rules and regulations restricting travel for non-essential purposes, such as vacationing or visiting a second home.
Several highways connecting British Columbia to the Northwest Territories and the Yukon, for example, are closed to non-essential travel. Meanwhile, only residents of Newfoundland and Labrador are allowed to enter the province.
It’s important to stay informed of these details, D'Arbelles said, especially considering how often they’re updated.
Pay attention to the advice of provincial health authorities and restrictions on entering any regions you may be travelling to, she advises. D'Arbelles also recommends researching what services and facilities are open before you leave.
“It’s a moving target, so do your research and do it often,” she told CTVNews.ca over the phone on Thursday. “A last-minute road trip where you just get in the car and drive and hope that you find a hotel at 10 p.m. that night is likely not the smartest thing to do during this time.”
Lee suggests self-isolating for two weeks before hitting the road, especially if you hope to travel or meet with people outside of your household.
“I would imagine that many families would want to be able to interact and be close,” she said. “One way to be able to do that is to ensure that everybody who is vacationing together is either negative or unable to transmit if they’ve had it already.”
This also helps prevent someone from spreading COVID-19 to a new environment, explained Anna Banerji, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Toronto's Dalla Lana School of Public Health. If you’re showing any symptoms related to COVID-19, she recommends just staying home.
CONSIDER YOUR SURROUNDINGS
Before hitting the road, Banerji said to consider the number of people you’ll be interacting with. The novel coronavirus most commonly spreads from an infected person through respiratory droplets released from the nose or mouth. The more people you’re surrounded by, the greater your chances are of contracting the virus, explained Banerji.
She recommends minimizing contact with others as much as possible.
“Should you go to a water park… versus going on a camping trip where you have your own little bubble?” she said. “It’s probably better to go to a place where there’s not as many people.”
It’s also important to be aware of what the pandemic looks like in the area you’ll be travelling to, she said. This can be done by looking at federal and provincial websites that carry details on the number of cases recorded as well as the number of tests being performed.
- SEE THE MAP HERE: Click here for an interactive view of the coronavirus pandemic in Canada
CARRY EXTRA SUPPLIES
Depending on your destination, it may be harder to find open grocery stores and restaurants or they may have longer lineups than usual. Because of this, Banerji suggests bringing an extra supply of food and water when travelling on the road. This also helps to minimize your interaction with other people, she said.
“You might want to supply a few extra staples that you might need,” she said. “You’re not engaging with other people as much, so your risk or getting [COVID-19] or spreading it is much lower.”
She even recommends bringing supplies such as cutlery, cups, plates and even a portable grill if you can.
While you’ll likely be travelling with your phone and maybe even a GPS, D'Arbelles also suggests bringing a map.
“You might end up in certain parts of the province or country where you don’t have a lot of cell service,” she explained. “This means your GPS might not always be working.”
Having a road map on hand or printing out your route before hitting the road will help prevent you from getting lost, she said.
Lee suggests carrying a generous supply of products used to keep yourself and nearby surfaces clean. This includes disinfectant wipes and sprays, paper towels, hand sanitizer, and soap. She also recommends bringing reusable facemasks – more than one per family member, if possible – and several pairs of disposable gloves.
“These are the same things we would need to go out and about in public right now,” Lee said.
PRACTISE GOOD HAND HYGIENE WHEN PUMPING GAS
High-touch surfaces such as buttons, keypads and the pump itself can be a concern for transmitting COVID-19 at gas stations, explains Lee. For this reason, she advises minimizing contact with these surfaces as much as possible.
“Those are the three places where you want to make sure you have a barrier between your skin,” she said. “If you can’t have a barrier, then make sure you have a place to wash your hands with soap and water right after.”
Wearing a disposable glove while using the machine is best, she said. Just be sure to take it off and sanitize your hands when you’re done. If you don’t have a glove on hand, use a disinfectant wipe to clean the surfaces you’ll be touching before reaching for them.
Above all, she cautions travellers from touching their face. While she admits that it’s unlikely someone would contract the virus just from touching a surface, COVID-19 can be transmitted if someone touches a contaminated surface and then touches their face right after.
BRING CLEANING SUPPLIES TO THE WASHROOM
Being on the road often means pit stops to use the washroom. Lee suggests bringing disinfectant wipes with you when you go, so as not to make direct contact with door handles, light switches, faucets, or other surfaces you may need to touch.
Banerji said you may want to consider wiping down the toilet seat as well. Once you’re finished, be sure to wash your hands with soap and water, and sanitize after touching any door handles.
“This is where the planning comes in,” she said. “Think about what you need to manage the surfaces when you get in and out of there so you’re touching as few things as possible.”
HANDLE FOOD WITH CLEAN HANDS
Travelling on the road can also mean more stops for food. Banerji recommends ordering through delivery or curbside pick-up as much as possible to avoid being inside restaurants.
Before and after handling takeout containers, she suggests washing your hands with soap and water. Moving your food out of containers and onto plates or other dishes before eating is also a good idea, she said.
“[COVID-19] is very unlikely to be spread by food delivery,” Banerji said. “After you touch anything that could’ve been touched by someone else, just clean your hands.”
ASK FOR CLEANING PROTOCOLS
If you’re renting a vehicle or booking a hotel room, the potential for leftover germs and bacteria could raise some concern. To help ease your mind, Lee suggests asking for a breakdown of the cleaning process.
“This is to have them reassure you that they have done appropriate protocols,” she said.
In terms of what to look for in these protocols, you want to know that a cleaning procedure is in place and being followed, she explained. This shows that sanitation is being taken seriously.
“If they are doing appropriate cleaning between guests, they likely have a checklist [and] a way of training their employees to do that,” she said. “That’s a reasonable thing to ask for and there should not be a hesitation for businesses to share that.”
If cleaning protocols are in place, there is no need to do your own disinfecting, Lee said. But for peace of mind, feel free to wipe down the steering wheel, radio dash and other high-touch areas inside the vehicle.
While the material of a car seat doesn’t pose a high risk of transmitting the coronavirus, Banerji explains that they can be cleaned with disinfectant wipes as well. In hotel or motel rooms, the same goes for counters and other high-touch surfaces.
“You can’t control everything, but that’s something you could do,” said Banerji.
KEEP YOUR DISTANCE FROM ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE
At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the CAA introduced new measures to ensure the safety of members and associates during roadside assistance calls.
According to D'Arbelles, most calls received by the company recently have been to boost car batteries. In this scenario, members would remain in their cars while associates work under the hood to avoid any unnecessary contact. On top of this, members in need of towing are no longer allowed to ride in tow trucks and must look for other means of transportation.
“These are new procedures that we put in place once the pandemic hit,” she said. “These processes are meant to keep our members as safe as possible.”
Throughout any interactions, Banerji cautions travellers to keep their distance, wear a mask, and wipe down anything you plan on touching.
The Public Health Agency of Canada advises the use of non-medical masks or face coverings in areas where keeping a distance of at least two metres apart from others is not possible.
CONSIDER SELF-ISOLATING WHEN YOU GET HOME
Even if you’re travelling from one province to another, certain provincial governments will require you to self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival. Though some exemptions exist, self-isolation is mandatory across Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island.
For provinces where this isn’t mandatory, Banerji explains that the decision to self-isolate should depend on your level of exposure to strangers throughout your trip.
If you’ve gone to a beach, for example, and come into contact with groups of people, it’s recommended to self-isolate for two weeks when you get home, she says. But if you and your family have travelled to a cottage by yourselves with limited interaction with others, then self-isolating likely isn’t necessary.
It’s important to keep in mind that you should immediately quarantine if you start to feel sick at any point after your trip, says Banerji.
“If you have any kind of viral symptom…your family should be self-isolating for two weeks,” she said.