The number of COVID-19 cases has doubled in Washington state over the past two weeks. In response, Gov. Jay Inslee recommends a 14-day quarantine for people coming into the state and is asking people to stay close to home. California and Oregon are doing the same to try and slow the spread of the virus.
For example, if you are driving or flying back to Washington after traveling to another state or a foreign country, you are being asked to stay in your household for two weeks — ideally wearing a mask around other people in your household.
Some health officials say none of us should be socializing with anyone outside our household right now. Dr. Jeff Duchin, the health officer for Seattle King County Public Health, says the coronavirus is a viral wildfire.
“And we are the fuel, everywhere we gather, especially indoors at work or socially in groups for any purpose recreation, worship, dining, social events or parties, which is a risk for spreading COVID-19, and stepped up precautions are needed," Duchin said during a press conference with other health officials earlier this week. "Let's not throw more human logs on the fire.”
Still, some 60,000 people could be passing through Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on peak travel days over the Thanksgiving holiday, based on current airport estimates. Airport officials say they are doing everything possible to make sure people are safe.
The airport is handing out free masks to travelers. Masks are required at all times inside the airport and on all flights. Hundreds of signs are posted throughout the various terminals reminding travelers not to let their guard down.
“Reminders for people, whether it's, you know, the requirement for wearing masks, coughing into your sleeve, washing your hands frequently. We've got physical distancing stickers and science throughout the airport. We've got those separation separators with plastic between those key points between people,” said Perry Cooper, a spokesman for the airport.
Airport officials say they would not be surprised to see people cancel their travel plans given the new health alarms. This is the advice that Dr. Christopher Sanford with UW Medicine is recommending.
“The first thing I would do is decide if you can delay your trip by six months or if you can do whatever you are going to do virtually,” Sanford said.
There have been some well documented COVID transmission events on airplanes. However, studies show that traveling on a plane is much safer than, say, eating indoors at a restaurant. If you do get on a plane, Sanford says, eat beforehand and not during the fligth. It's OK to drink water on the plane, but be sure to put your mask right back on. Once you reach your destination and you are celebrating at someone else’s home, and you’re eating inside — which is what health officials say should be avoided at all costs — take extra precautions.
“Having windows and doors open is better than having all the windows and doors closed. Wearing a mask is a good idea. And then the same about washing your hands frequently has been shown to be of benefit," Sanford says. "Wearing a mask inside the home when you're not eating, it's a bit of a hassle I will grant that to you, but I'm fully attentive, as I rarely am when I look at a public health situation. Already, the numbers are big and they're getting bigger rapidly and people are dying from this.”
Sanford says the good news is that this is not going to go on forever: “I'm very enthused about these vaccines that appear to be on the horizon, but we need to hold out a few more months, even though it's difficult. But I know it's really stressful.”
Health officials advise we try to maintain mental health these next few months by staying connected with our small circle of contacts and by exercising.
Canada celebrated its Thanksgiving about a month ago, and a large increase in COVID cases followed. Sandford says the biggest gift you can give your family in 2020 is to keep some distance.