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On Call: Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Thu, 08/13/2020 - 15:31
Of the available options for vacations right now, camping is probably among the safest.
Carissa Katz

"Staying or Going?"

I have a confession. In 12 years of marriage (filled with four lovely but occasionally loud children), I have yet to take my wife on a honeymoon. In fact, as far as I can tell, we've only gone on two honest-to-goodness vacations in that entire time.

If anybody needs to get out of town, it's us. 

And after four years of medical school followed by four more of residency, I really thought that this year was going to be my chance to make it happen, to make up for lost time. 

And yet, as I find myself saying over and over, along came Covid-19. Right now, as a family physician, the best place I can be is in my office, doing my job.

Suffice it to say, vacation has been deferred. 

I wish I had a clear idea of how long deferred. Like so many, I am desperate to get back to a sense of normal, and for much of the United States, one cornerstone of normalcy is packing the kids in the car and taking a camping trip or hopping on a plane to Disney World.

While it may be safe to travel to some areas of the country right now, there are certainly plenty of others that have exploded into hotbeds of viral activity, and it seems like every day brings more and more reports of increasing cases and deaths rampaging across huge swaths of the country.

Leaving aside for a moment the mental toll that the constant onslaught of news can bring (which in itself obviously only adds to overall stress levels, making a vacation all that much more vital), the shifting dynamics of where it is safe to visit and where it may not be are enough to give just about anyone a headache.

So what should you do? 

It probably goes without saying, but the safest course if you want to absolutely minimize your risk of exposure to the novel coronavirus is to just stay home as much as possible, practice social distancing when you go out locally, and always have your mask handy. 

That's one option, but I understand it may not be one that sits well with most people. There're only so many hours you can hear "Fuller House" or "Paw Patrol" episodes on repeat, only so many ways you can tell your children that the electronic devices need to be charged yet again, only so many times you can remind yourself that you likely aren't going to get to see many of your friends or extended family for quite some time.

For those of us who live in states like New York where the case numbers peaked earlier this year and appear, for the time being at least, to be drastically improved, there are probably a few other options, although the caveat must be that the more you interact with people outside of your immediate family, the higher your risk inevitably is.

Of the available options for vacations, camping is probably among the safest. It allows you to spend time outdoors where airflow is obviously superior to anything indoors and therefore decreases (although does not eliminate) the risk of transmission. It's generally easy to maintain distance from other people on trails and in most campgrounds, and, of course, it gives plenty of time for physical exercise and sunlight exposure, which as a primary care doctor are things I'm always pushing for. 

If you're going to go to areas with low coronavirus case numbers, say to spend time in your time-share or an Airbnb (if they're even open), then be sure to do your due diligence to ask about cleaning policies: Is everything cleaned between guests? Are they allowing periods in between guests for airing out or for air filtering machines or ultraviolet to be employed? I'd also highly recommend planning your travel to absolutely minimize time in crowded areas like airports, bus depots, train stations, or the like as much as possible.

Ultimately, if you must get out of town, take this opportunity to pick a remote, rural area with low cases of the virus, and spend time cherishing your immediate family. In this, as in all things, balance is the key, balance between finding ways to keep your stress down but also your loved ones (and everyone else) safe. 

Even if it means deciding after 12 years to just go ahead and plan to honeymoon in a tent in the Catskills. 


Joshua Potter, D.O., is a physician with Stony Brook Southampton Hospital's Meeting House Lane Medical Practice who specializes in family and neuromusculoskeletal medicine. He oversees the practice's Shelter Island office. Opinions expressed in this column are his personal and professional views and not necessarily those of his employer.


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