Delta variant changes the rules on traveling with kids

Theme parks, long plane rides and cruise ships might be deemed too risky for many families in the near future.

As fall approaches, the pervasive, highly contagious delta variant has made travel more complicated, especially if it involves kids.

Dr. Paul Pottinger, a UW Medicine infectious disease expert, says family members over age 12 should not only be vaccinated, but also should know ahead of time what restrictions are in place at potential destinations.  Prepare to wear a mask indoors and, in some circumstances, outside.

“This virus spreads from person to person, so people would probably feel more comfortable traveling in their own group,” said Pottinger. “If you’re part of a pod or bubble, and you’re traveling in that trusted group, you’ve just dramatically reduced your chance of getting into trouble by acquiring the infection.”

Even within a trusted pod, people should do due diligence before taking a plane or road trip that involves border crossings or potential crowds. For example, to cross into Canada, travelers must be vaccinated and have a negative PCR test for COVID-19, not a rapid-result test, within 72 hours of arrival. The test and card documentation must also be uploaded into an online app before crossing the border.

“Open borders may suddenly close, and if you travel on a plane, check to see if you need a COVID-19 test before you board. Some want to see your vaccination card, others don’t seem to care,” Pottinger noted.

The process of getting to the airport, getting through security, then sitting at the gate encompasses risks greater than the flight time in a jet's cabin, he said. Travel duration is a consideration, too: “Are you really going to be able to keep your mask on for 10 hours? If the answer is no, then I’d reschedule.”

One mode of travel that might be an easy “no” right now is a cruise ship. On Aug. 20, the CDC published an advisory that anyone who is over 65, pregnant, recently pregnant, or managing a chronic health condition should avoid cruise travel for the time being – vaccinated or not.

Pottinger said he also would avoid theme parks this year, given that young children cannot be vaccinated. 

“The good news is that the U.S. is huge. There's so much wide-open space (and) there's so many things to do that are maybe a little bit unconventional, a little bit different, maybe a little more adventuresome. I think now's a great time to take kids on those longer road trips, have them experience what many of us of my age did when we were kids,” he said.

– Barbara Clements, 253.740.5043,

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