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December 10, 2020

What Snowbirds Should Know about Heading South During COVID-19

Millions of people from the United States and Canada who appreciate a warm climate typically head south to Florida during the winter months, with some of them—the “snowbirds”—staying for an extended period of time. 

This year, though, the numbers are expected to be much smaller, with one reason being that the U.S./Canada border is closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. GettyImages-511668796Canadians still have the ability to fly to Florida, but most of them prefer to drive — and that’s not currently possible. Plus, there can be healthcare complications if a Canadian citizen becomes ill while in the United States. If Canadian citizens do decide to fly to Florida, healthcare experts recommend buying travel insurance for protection — and to be very clear about exactly what the policy covers. 

But what about the snowbirds who live in the United States who like to winter in Florida? Should you go? If so, what extra precautions should you take? To help, AARP has created an in-depth guide to help answer those tough questions. 

First, one of the public health experts quoted in AARP notes, there’s no escaping the COVID-19 pandemic because it’s everywhere right now. So, it’s important to consider your personal degree of risk. For example, what is your age and what underlying health conditions do you have? Older adults, especially those with underlying health conditions are more vulnerable to COVID-19 and would be more likely to “require hospitalization, intensive care or help breathing” if they catch the virus. Chronic health conditions that can increase the risk levels include heart disease and type 2 diabetes—although they are not the only ones. 

Also consider the prevalence of the virus in the area where you plan to stay. What are the numbers over the past two weeks? Are the numbers trending up or down? How many new cases are there per 100,000? Ideally, there would be fewer than four. How easy would it be to get tested in the area where you want to stay? There should be at least 150 tests available for every 100,000 people in the community each day. Are positivity rates less than 5%? What kind of hospital capacity is there? Intensive-care openings?

Public health experts at The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provide some of this information here.

For example, on October 22, the CDC shows 14.2 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people over the past week, with 21,148 new cases during that time period—bringing the total cases to 750,739; that’s 3,525 cases per 100,000 people. If it’s helpful to compare these numbers to Ohio during the same time period, there were 17.1 new cases per 100,000 people over the past week, with 14,013 new cases. This is a total of 185,639 COVID-19 cases with 1,588 cases per 100,000 people. 

If you decide to go, there are pros and cons to flying, as well as for driving. When flying, you’ll be around airport employees, fellow passengers, public transportation personnel, and so forth, sometimes making social distancing more challenging. You’ll get there faster when flying, though, which is a plus. If you choose that method, investigate which airlines are using the best safety protocols. 

If driving, you’ll come in contact with people are gas stations, restaurants, and rest stops, which can create some social distancing situations. On the plus side, you will be with fewer people in the vehicle while traveling (ones you know) and you can roll down the windows to increase ventilation. 

Depending upon the area’s department of health rules, some visitors will need to self-quarantine for two weeks when first arriving. Is this applicable to where you’re staying? If so, it’s important to have all the food, medicines, and other necessary items with you since it may not be easy to instantly get them, even if you can find places that will deliver. In some locales, you can take a coronavirus test to avoid the need for a quarantine—but, again, check for specifics. They may evolve, so make sure you have the most current information before you travel. 

When you arrive, what do you plan to do in Florida? Is social distancing reasonably easy to practice with those activities? Can you get groceries and medications delivered reasonably easily if desired? 

Also, think ahead about returning home and public health requirements associated with that. Will you need to self-quarantine again or take another test? Stay current with information. Preparation is key!

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