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Dr. Charles Bregier

Editor's note:  Is it safe to get back to the life you knew? As services come back, we’re asking our doctors and other providers to help answer those questions in a series called Navigating COVID: Back to life. You’ll find those stories, and many others, here. Got a question? Email [email protected].

Is it too early to start flying? Yes, says said Dr. Charles Bregier, medical director of corporate health with Novant Health. 

 “Avoid any discretionary travel,” “It’s not a safe time to fly.” While air travel is down dramatically, “there have been reports of flights that are completely packed,” Bregier said. “If every seat is full, you have people literally about 18 inches away from you. There’s no way you can maintain adequate social distance in that situation.”

Even if you’re willing to take the risk yourself, remember you could be an asymptomatic carrier of the coronavirus. “We have to keep high-risk people in mind,” he said. “We need to social distance, practice meticulous hand hygiene and wear facial coverings.”

“And with air travel, people are coming into one closed setting from all over, including areas where there’s a high prevalence of COVID-19,” he added. “It increases your risk significantly.”

That said, air travel is coming back. At Charlotte Douglas International Airport, one of the busiest in the country, traffic was down 95 percent at one point. Today, it's down by 65 percent. Here's what you need to know if you're heading back to the skies.

 

If you insist on flying

If you decide to fly, remember to protect yourself and others. “As you're going through security and checking your bags, hold space in front of and behind you,” Bregier said. “Wear a mask that fully covers your nose and mouth. Have  travel-size hand sanitizer with at least 60% ethanol in it, and use it often. Bring your own food – from home, not the concourse – on the plane.”

Choose your seat carefully; an aisle seat appears to pose the highest risk and a window seat the least. Minimize your time walking around the plane and try to avoid going to the restroom.

Masks? Check. Hand sanitizer? Check. Gloves? Bregier is not in favor. “Gloves can give you a false sense of security and can be quickly contaminated on the outside,” he said. “If you inadvertently touch your face, eyes or the food you’re eating, you could potentially be contaminating yourself. It makes more sense to use hand sanitizer regularly and touch as few objects as possible.”

If this is sounding like more trouble than it’s worth, the doctor agrees. “I don’t envision flying any time soon,” he said. “The airline industry has a long way to go to make people feel safe about getting on a plane.”

Once you’ve landed, risks continue

Once you’ve reached your destination, risks are still present. Were you thinking of calling Lyft? Think twice. “I’m less in favor of Ubering right now,” the doctor said. “You don’t know how many passengers the driver has had that day.”

He suggests renting a car, but even that comes with a host of hazards. Contact the rental car agency in advance and ask if they’re using FDA-approved sanitizers, Bregier said. Cars should ideally be parked in the sunshine where UV light can work its disinfecting magic. A car should sit for 24 hours, minimum, before someone else drives it.

Bregier hasn’t rented a car since the coronavirus outbreak. If he did, he’d bring his own supply of wipes to clean high-touch surfaces and wear a mask while driving. And still, after wiping down the vehicle’s interior, he’d go for a 15-minute walk to let the disinfectant do its work.Embed -

Now, it is time to relax? (No.)

Now, you’ve braved four minefields – two airports, the plane and the rental car. You’re ready to check in. Don’t let your guard down.

“It may be harder for hotels to allow the same time interval between guests as a car rental company,” Bregier said. “People often check out at noon, and you might check in at 3 or 4 p.m. I would do some research to be comfortable with the sanitizing the hotel staff is doing.”

Question the front desk staff about how your room was cleaned. What products were used? How long has the room been allowed to “air out” since it was cleaned? Don’t be afraid to be that customer.

When you get to your room (after you’ve avoided directly touching the elevator buttons), leave your bags in the hallway for a moment while you do a quick visual inspection. You don’t want to see any wet.

Avoid using the coffeemaker or anything previous guests may have touched that would be hard to completely sanitize, Bregier said. Use the disposable nitrile gloves you’ve brought from home to grab the wipes you brought from home to sanitize surfaces others may have touched, including the TV remote.  

You’re still not finished with this hypothetical check-in. Take the Lysol you brought from home (either small travel size approved for carry on or larger size in checked luggage) and spray the carpet, bedspread, curtains. (Don’t spray Lysol on your pillow or sheets that your skin is going to come into direct contact with them.)

If Bregier walked into a hotel room and it didn’t feel clean, he’d ask for another room.

He wouldn’t unpack at all. The drawers may not have been sanitized. “Bring your own disposable or reusable cup,” he said. “Put your toothbrush in it. As best you can, don’t let your personal items come in contact with sink surfaces and faucets.”   

What about  road trips?

What if it’s just your immediate family and you decide to drive somewhere for a quick getaway? You’ve been sheltering in place together, so if you all hop in the family roadster for a weekend away, that’s safe, right?

Not in the age of COVID-19. Road trips still mean stopping at rest areas or fast food places to grab a bite to eat and use the restroom. Aim for as few stops as you can manage.

“Pack your food, bottled water and sanitizing products and try to stop as infrequently as possible,” he said. “When you have to stop and use the restroom and fill your gas tank, practice social distancing and hand hygiene and use facial coverings.”

Pitstops are going to take even longer if you’ve got young kids in tow. The whole family should be masked up – with one exception. “It’s not appropriate for children under the age of 2 to wear facial coverings,” he said. “You just don’t know when you could be restricting their breathing.”

Bregier suggests taking one child at a time into the restroom. Push the door open with your elbow, if you can. And constantly remind your child not to touch anything.

That’s a lot to do before and during what’s supposed to be a relaxing break from routine. There’s never been a better time to enjoy a staycation.