Last Updated on
You’ve seen the reports about coronavirus. Now, you’re worried about traveling. That’s completely understandable. There will be people who say not to worry, but you have every right to be concerned. It’s important to stay informed! There’s a good chance you’ve searched “coronavirus and travel” because you’re not sure if you should cancel your trip.
The 2020 outbreak of coronavirus began in Wuhan, China and has begun spreading globally. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has issued a travel advisory as the number of deaths and infections continue to rise. China has also shut down major cities and attractions such as Shanghai Disneyland and sections of The Great Wall.
This post will discuss the origins of coronavirus, how the disease is spread, and how to prevent infection. We will also explore the current travel restrictions due to coronavirus, and whether you should consider canceling your trip (spoiler — that’s ultimately your call).
Major Update (January 31):
Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar has declared a public health emergency in the United States. Here’s what that means:
- U.S. citizens returning from Hubei province in the previous 14 days will be subject to up to a 14-day quarantine.
- Foreign nationals, other than immediate family members of U.S. citizens, who have traveled to China in the previous 14 days will be denied entry into the country. The temporary measures take effect February 2, 2020 at 5 p.m.
- Americans returning from other parts of China in the previous 14 days will be subject to a health screening upon entry and asked to self-quarantine for up to 14 days.
All 195 people who were evacuated from China are being voluntarily quarantined at a military base in California. This is the first time in 50 years that anything like this has been requested. The quarantine will last for 14 days from the time the plane left Wuhan. As of February 11, 2019, the evacuees have been released from quarantine.
- Update (January 30): The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared a “public health emergency of international concern.” They are also offering travel advice.
- Update (January 31): Many major airlines have cancelled flights in and out of China. A seventh person in the United States has tested positive for coronavirus.
- Update (February 2): The Philippines is reporting the first coronavirus death outside of China.
- Update (February 2): A scientific model created by the University of Hong Kong claims that, as of January 25, the “real number of coronavirus cases is more than 75,000…and will double in size every 6.4 days.”
- Update (February 4): A cruise ship off the coast of Japan is being held and quarantined after a growing number of passengers has tested positive for the virus. There are at least 174 cases on board (updated on February 12).
- Update (February 5): A newborn tested positive for coronavirus just 30 hours after being born. The child’s mother is infected.
- Update (February 6): The Chinese doctor who was punished by the Chinese authorities for trying to alert others in the early stages of this coronavirus outbreak has died.
- Update (February 8): One American is dead and there are at least 12 confirmed cases of the virus in the United States as of Saturday morning.
- Update (February 10): The death toll in China is 1,107. The current number of people infected with coronavirus in China is 43,090. Coronavirus has spread to 24 countries, causing 393 cases and 1 death, in the Philippines.
- Update (February 11): A U.S. evacuee with coronavirus was accidentally released from the hospital in California. A couple in the state has also suddenly become very ill. There’s also fear that coronavirus could be spread through pipes in buildings.
- Update (February 11): We’ve got an official name now – COVID-19.
- Update (February 12): The number of new cases has slowed down. According to WHO: Outbreak in China “reducing,” and outside China it’s “very manageable.”
- Update (February 12): There are now 14 confirmed cases of coronavirus COVID-19 in the United States.
- Update (February 13): There are now 15 confirmed cases in the United States.
- Update (February 13): While reports indicated that the spread of the virus had slowed down just yesterday, today we’re seeing a massive spike. In fact, it’s the largest one-day jump since this all started. There are 14,840 in Hubei Province alone, bringing the total number to 48,206. The death toll in the province rose to 1,310, including 242 new deaths.”
- Update (February 14): A Japanese man developed cold-like symptoms while visiting Hawaii. His symptoms worsened after he returned home to Japan. He has now been diagnosed with COVID-19. As of today, there have been 1,383 deaths and more than 64,000 confirmed cases worldwide.
- Update (February 14): Someone has died of coronavirus in Japan, bringing the total to three deaths outside of China. Also, 1,700 healthcare workers have been infected.
- Update (February 15): France has reported the first coronavirus fatality outside of Asia. An 80-year-old Chinese tourist died after becoming ill in mid-January. Also, the U.S. has decided to evacuate Americans from the quarantined cruise ship.
- Update (February 16): The number of deaths is up to 1,665 with a total of 68,500 confirmed cases. There are now 355 (including one American) passengers with coronavirus on that quarantined cruise ship.
You may not have heard about it before this month, but coronavirus is a fairly common type of virus. According to WebMD, this type of virus can cause infections in your nose, sinuses, or upper throat, but it’s usually not dangerous. Unpleasant, but not the end of the world.
Unfortunately, there are types that can lead to serious illness and death. An example would be the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (see below), Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), which has killed 858 people across the Middle East, Asia, Africa, Europe, and the United States.
You’re most likely very familiar with severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), which caused a massive outbreak back in 2003. My youngest daughter had just been born and I was a nervous wreck. SARS claimed the lives of 774 people worldwide.
The 2020 coronavirus outbreak is caused by a brand new strain. The World Health Organization started calling it “2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV).” It was first detected in Wuhan, China and the earliest cases were linked to a large animal and seafood market, prompting some to assume this was caused by animal-to-person exposure.
Now that it’s clearly being found outside of the Wuhan area, it seems as though this is being spread person-to-person. We still don’t fully know what’s happening, so for the latest updates, keep an eye on the CDC’s web page 2019 Novel Coronavirus, Wuhan, China.
Here are a few quick facts (this can change as we learn more about the 2020 coronavirus):
- The current known fatality rate is 2%.
- That’s high compared to the seasonal flu (1%) and low compared to SARS (10%)
- It’s very contagious. Passengers on cruise ships and a baby born to an infected mother caught this quickly from just one person.
Note: As of February 11, 2019, scientists have started calling this COVID-19.
After being identified on December 31, 2019, the 2020 outbreak of coronavirus has killed at least 1,665 people and infected more than 68,500 worldwide. At the time of this writing, that works out to just almost six deaths per day. It has spread to 20 countries as of January 30. Keep that in mind if anyone tries to tell you not to be worried about coronavirus and travel. We’re not saying you should panic, but it’s definitely worth being vigilant.
In the United States, there have been 15 confirmed cases, so far: eight in California, one in Massachusetts, one in Washington state, one in Arizona, two in Illinois, one in Wisconsin, and one in Texas. This article on the NBC News website shows a map of where coronavirus has been confirmed stateside. It will be updated if any additional cases are identified. This is a great resource as we may not be able to keep this post updated with the number of reported cases rising rapidly.
If you’re wondering, “Can you catch coronavirus?” the answer is yes. Absolutely, you can catch coronavirus and there’s a good chance you’ve already had one. In fact, according to WebMD and the CDC, everyone becomes infected with coronavirus at least once in their life. They are most common in the fall and winter, and we all probably had it as young kids. Of course, those infections would be associated with the less serious form of the virus.
How are coronaviruses spread? Pretty much like any cold or flu:
- Through the air from someone who has coughed or sneezed.
- By being in close contact with an infected person, including shaking hands.
- Touching a surface that is covered with the virus.
- Sometimes (rarely) through fecal contamination (I don’t want to know!).
This is exactly why some people are worried about the coronavirus and travel. You could be trapped in an airplane full of coughing and sneezing people, and don’t get us started with that nasty tray table.
Here’s our best piece of advice — keep your hands clean and don’t touch your face. Being really strict about those two things has dramatically reduced how often we get sick, which is why we included it in our guide Avoid Getting Sick During Cold & Flu Season Travel.
Germs love to hitch a ride into your body through your eyes, nose, and mouth. So, don’t rub your eyes, scratch your nose, or eat without cleaning your hands. Using hand sanitizer when you can’t wash your hands is a great idea, and something we do often. We also rub our eyes and noses with the inside of our shirt/hoodie collar to avoid making contact with our skin and/or mucous membranes.
Something I’ve seen people asking is, “How do I know if I have coronavirus?” Undoubtedly, the internet is exploding with searches for signs that you’ve been infected with the coronavirus. It’s spreading quickly, so you know there are folks who recently returned from China (or are currently there!) that are freaking out.
- Runny nose
- Sore throat
- A general feeling of being unwell
- Less commonly, pneumonia and bronchitis
Again, the full details about 2019-nCoV infection are still developing, but the patients with confirmed cases had shown mild to severe respiratory illness along with the following symptoms:
- Shortness of breath
According to the CDC, preliminary evidence suggests that you could show signs of coronavirus as soon as two days, or as long as 14, after exposure.
Been to Hubei Province, China (including Wuhan) in the last 14 days? Have you had direct contact with someone who has recently traveled from there? Are you feeling sick or showing any signs of being infected with the coronavirus? Here’s what you should do:
- Seek medical attention immediately.
- Avoid contact with others.
- Do not travel if you think you might have coronavirus.
- Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing. Shield your face with your sleeve or a tissue (not your hands!).
- Wash your hands often (for at least 20 seconds) with soap and hot water. Can’t get to a sink? Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
If you think you could have been exposed, or haven’t been feeling well since returning from a trip, call your healthcare provider or local hospital. DO NOT show up without giving them advance notice. They may want to prepare a separate, quarantined area for you to help avoid spreading coronavirus in the event that you are infected.
Right now, there are no antiviral treatments recommended for this particular type of coronavirus. Instead, the focus has been managing the specific symptoms of those infected with 2019-nCoV. So, if someone has a fever, the medical team will work on bringing it down. If they’re struggling to breathe, they’d address that, and so on.
Again, before seeking medical assistance, call ahead and let them know that you’re coming. Among other things, they may ask you to wear a face mask before entering clinical areas. Be prepared to provide the following information:
- Travel history.
- Date of onset of symptoms.
- Share any public places where you may have come in contact with other people.
It’s easier said than done, but if you suspect you might have coronavirus, stay calm. You’ll think better with a clearer head. Also, do not ignore any warning signs. Stay home and contact a physician so that you can get the care you need without putting others at risk.
Should you be worried about coronavirus and travel? The short answer is maybe. While the virus has spread, the majority of the activity remains in a specific region of China. You could, however, come in contact with travelers who have been exposed to the coronavirus in common areas such as airports and airplanes. You will need to weigh the risks for yourself.
Currently, the CDC has issued a Level 3 travel warning due to the coronavirus. What does that mean?
- Nonessential travel to Hubei Province, China (including Wuhan) should be avoided.
- Transport within and out of Wuhan and other areas in Hubei Province has been closed. This includes the international airport, trains, subways, and buses.
- Medical care in affected areas may be limited.
- Vulnerable populations include older adults and people with chronic health conditions.
Additionally, several countries and territories have implemented health screenings for travelers arriving from Wuhan. If you’re flying in from China, you may have to do the following:
- Have your temperature taken.
- Fill out a symptom questionnaire.
- Submit to an additional health assessment if you are showing any signs of coronavirus.
To avoid the 2020 coronavirus outbreak, follow the same steps you’d take to avoid influenza — with one key addition (avoid animals). Here are the CDC recommendations (and a couple of ours):
- Keep your hands clean by washing with soap and water and/or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Avoid contact with sick people.
- Avoid animals (alive or dead) and steer clear of animal markets and animal products (like uncooked meat).
- We’ll add this — wear a face mask, even if it’s just for your own peace of mind.
- Another of our recommendations — wipe down your seat *thoroughly* on the airplane.
Not only could you protect yourself against coronavirus, but you could prevent it from spreading to others. You may also find the following posts on The Anxious Travelers helpful if you decide to travel, especially by airplane:
- Avoid Getting Sick During Cold & Flu Season Travel
- Natural Ways to Stay Healthy While Traveling
- How to Avoid Catching Something On Your Flight
- Long Haul Flight Essentials with Travel Anxiety
- The Ultimate Germaphobe’s Guide to Hotel Stays
- 5 Ways to Avoid Germs at Theme Parks (And What to Pack!)
Now that the 2020 coronavirus outbreak is spreading, you might be wondering whether to cancel upcoming travel. We cannot answer that question for you, but we do encourage you to keep an eye on the CDC’s coronavirus travel warnings.
If you decide to go on your trip, keep in mind that you could encounter airport closures and face health screenings before and/or after boarding a flight. Many airlines have suspended flights to and from China. You could come in contact with people who have been exposed to coronavirus. It’s definitely something to consider.
Josh and I met while working at a travel insurance company. We strongly recommend having coverage. Be sure to review the policy thoroughly and reach out to the agency with questions, if necessary. We know it’s an added expense, but it really is a good idea to buy a travel insurance policy! Keep in mind, though, that the coronavirus outbreak is now a known event, and may not be covered if you try to buy a travel insurance policy at this point. Yes, they will look at when your coverage began.
Coming down with an illness (or having a travel companion become ill) is often covered. We think it’s best to add medical travel benefits when you can. In the event that you become sick and need assistance abroad, this type of policy can truly be a lifesaver.
We’re hoping we’ve seen the worst of the 2020 coronavirus outbreak, but you never know with these things. If you decide to brave it and continue with your travels, more power to you. Just be responsible! If you decide to postpone and play it safe, don’t beat yourself up. You can always rebook when things clear up!