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Travel and the pandemic: ‘Respect the viral world’

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posted October 1, 2020
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The virus that causes COVID-19 is microscopic in size, but it has grounded airplanes, halted motorcoaches, and closed the doors of museums, restaurants, and event venues. And while travel professionals are focused on when and how people can resume taking trips, they should remain alert to the coronavirus—the unseen agent that is causing so much misery.

To better understand the COVID battlefield and its ongoing implications for travel and tourism, Courier talked with Dr. Bridget Calhoun, chair and associate professor in the Rangos School of Health Sciences at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. Dr. Calhoun holds a doctoral degree in public health in infectious diseases and microbiology and is a national leader in physician assistant education.


What are the practical effects of a COVID-19 vaccine?

Anytime we have a vaccine, it dramatically changes prevalence rates. And the lower the prevalence, the fewer people there are to spread the disease. The goal is to have no more hosts of the virus. In terms of the travel industry, the more people who are vaccinated, the quicker we can get back to normal.

When do you see a vaccine being approved and distributed?

I think it’ll be well into 2021. It takes that much time to determine efficacy and safety. Politicians can be overly optimistic, but it comes down to the science. What I haven’t yet seen is a discussion about the medical workforce. How will we conduct a mass vaccination? We have to think about recruiting people—nurses, pharmacists, etc.—to staff clinics in the midst of a pandemic.

Should people be concerned about the safety of a vaccine?

There are always doubters, and I know there will be a hesitancy to be among the first to get the vaccine. I’ll be eager to get it as soon as it’s available.

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Before we have a vaccine—and even after—is testing our best bet for resuming normal activities?

Instead of relying only on the test, we must all be aware of how the virus spreads. You have to be responsible about what you might breathe in. Be diligent about wearing masks and washing hands, and stay away from people who are coughing or unmasked. There are measures we’ve taken to limit the spread of other diseases that we’re now applying to COVID. It’s very normal for us to do contact tracing and isolating people who we know have been exposed to infectious diseases.

What about personal choice?

These steps might seem like an infringement on freedoms, and there’s a fine balance between public health and personal freedom. But if you look back in history at the wars between viruses and people, people don’t always win. We have to be careful and respect the viral world.

What’s in store for travel in 2021?

While people are looking at alternative or modified modes of transportation—or picking destinations with wide open spaces—it really comes down to personal responsibility. We’ll be changed in terms of awareness of surroundings—wearing masks and wiping surfaces. I hope people have more respect for infectious diseases.

Top photo ©faber14/Adobe Stock