Infectious disease expert discusses airport travel safety

Published: Oct. 28, 2020 at 6:38 AM EDT|Updated: Oct. 28, 2020 at 7:29 AM EDT
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SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - As the holidays creep closer, people are weighing the safety of travel options including air travel.

Infectious Disease Physician Dr. Jessie Leyse says the risk while on a plane of catching COVID-19 is low based on filtration and cleanings that planes undergo. She says it’s going through an airport that can cause concern.

“It’s basically what we think about every day, but it’s continuing to think about it as you’re traveling," she said.

If you’re choosing to take off from the Burlington International Airport, you will find many precautions.

“This is the beginning of your success, and again more reminders, those are all throughout the airport, both sides," said Gene Richards, the director of aviation at the Burlington International Airport.

As you head through the airport, you are reminded from the entrance to stay safe. Richards says you can never be too cautious.

“You may feel healthy, but you may be a carrier,” he said, adding that minimal touchpoints are key. “Virtually everything that you do at the airport is touchless."

And after using the surfaces you have to touch, like ticket terminals or door handles, Richards recommends using one of the nearly 50 hand sanitizer stations or the touchless bathroom.

“You can’t wash enough," he said.

And as you make your way through TSA and into the terminal waiting areas, social distancing is still encouraged. But Richards says they still aren’t at the number of travelers they want to be. He says he expects they won’t be at their 5,000-travelers-a-week goal for a bit longer. But as airlines continue to sell more seats, Richards says that is likely a boost in their confidence.

“I think they feel better about their processes and their cleaning and the air circulation," he said.

But Dr. Leyse says that’s far from a go-ahead.

“I certainly don’t think it’s the greenlight. Really we should continue to stay home as much as we can and stay distanced, but if we absolutely have to travel for some reason, it’s possible you just have to be really careful when you do it," she said.

Leyse says if you are choosing to travel, extensive precautions at the airport are a welcome sight, but the real health measures happen before you lock your front door.

“You really have to be cognizant of how you’re feeling and who you have been in contact with before you get to the airport," she said.

Leyse says the baseline should be a mask as well as hand sanitizer. From there, it is about comfort.

“It’s really about your risk of getting the infection and your risk of having a severe infection. If you get it, for example, someone with immune system issues may want to be more careful. So, in that case, you may want to wear gloves or you may want to wear eye protection, so you don’t accidentally touch your eye after you touch a surface,” she said.

She also says it is important to make sure that you are aware of all quarantining guidelines in Vermont as well as anywhere else you are traveling.

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