Yes! It's THAT time of year again: family time, turkey time, and travel time. So nobody’s got time to get sick with covid, the flu, strep, or any other plan-wrecking pathogens. Though we may aspire to be super dads, super moms, super siblings, or just super awesome, we definitely don’t want to be the super spreader of the family.
Since the beginning of the covid-19 pandemic, holiday gatherings have been canceled or cut short. There are some people who haven't seen some members of their families since early 2020. Over 2 ½ years later, many of us still worry about how to travel safely, or whether to travel at all. Yet, it’s hard to accept that we even missed those awkward hugs from distant relatives. The ones we see every once in a while. Then the question becomes: How can we minimize the risks of travel? Let’s go over everything together.
Catching Up With Covid-19: The Latest (And Not Greatest) News About Our Least Favorite Holiday Guest
Unfortunately, Covid is not over yet. According to the World Health Organization and other health experts, we are still very much in the midst of a pandemic, even though government leaders are eager to declare the Covid-19 health crisis has reached an endemic status. The US and the rest of the world still experience significant infection rates and deaths.
According to the CDC, the current 7-day average of new covid cases in the US is around 39k.
There are multiple super stealth sub-variants of Omicron making the scene. Two in particular- BQ.1 + BQ.1.1 seem to be undeterred by vaccines or prior infections. Immunity evasion can mean higher rates of transmission, which means we could be in for a winter surge. These new variants are now responsible for around 44% of new infections nationwide and up to 60% in certain regions.
Don’t get down about the vaccines!
Health experts continue to encourage us to get the latest bivalent boosters, which are the first to target the Omicron variant.
Leavin’ On A Jet Plane? modMD’s Guide To Pre-Travel Covid-19 Testing
Testing requirements for travel have decreased in the last year, and many airlines and destinations are no longer requiring proof of a negative covid-19 test. This may seem like one less thing to have to do before leaving on holiday, but modMD’s physicians Drs. Lisa and Naomi Dabby, are saying that regardless of what is required (or not required), we should be making Covid-19 testing a priority this season.
We have seen that one of the best ways to make sure that no one brings covid home for the holidays, is to test, test, test.
But I’ve been vaxxed and boosted! Do I still need to test?
Vaccines have been very effective in helping to slow the spread of Covid. They can help decrease the severity of symptoms and prevent hospitalizations and death, but that does not guarantee immunity to the virus. We have seen many cases of breakthrough infections throughout the US and abroad. Unfortunately, it is still possible to contract and spread Covid-19 even if you are fully vaccinated.
Be a superhero, not a super spreader. Test for covid-19 before, during, and after your trip.
Which Covid-19 Test Is The Best? Testing 1…2…3…
#1: RT- PCR
This is the most sensitive test and provides the most reliable results especially if you do not have any symptoms.
A large percentage of covid transmission (upwards of 60%) comes from asymptomatic or presymptomatic carriers.
What exactly is an RT- PCR test?
RT-PCR stands for Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction.
Test samples can be collected from a nasal swab, oral swab, or a saliva ‘spit test’.
RT-PCR is one example of a NAAT test (Nucleic Acid Amplification Test).
A PCR test can detect even a small amount of this virus present in the body, making it the most sensitive and accurate test to determine whether you are infected.
These tests are considered to be 99% accurate in determining the presence or absence of viral infection.
The turnaround time for these tests can be anywhere from 6 hours to 5 days, depending on the lab, so make sure to plan ahead before any travel plans.**
**If you live in the Los Angeles area and If you’ve left testing to the last minute, never fear! ModMD offers walk-up/drive-through covid testing with same-day PCR results in 6-12 hours.
Runners-Up Are The Covid-19 Rapid Molecular And Rapid Antigen Tests
#2: Rapid Molecular PCR
It’s a highly accurate option if you need results quickly: 30 minutes to 1 hour.
This test cannot be purchased over the counter. You will still need to go to a covid testing facility like modMD
Accula tests are considered 95% accurate.
These tests are expensive and not often covered by insurance.
Rapid Molecular LAMP Test
FDA-approved, results in 30 min or less AND Lucira is available online.
User-friendly with its own App.
**Rapid Molecular PCRs use the same NAAT procedure as the RT-PCR, but instead of being processed in a lab, they process on a small handheld machine that yields results in about 30 minutes.
**LAMP (Loop-mediated Isothermal Amplification) tests also use a NAAT or RNA amplification method (different from the RT- PCR method, but still sensitive and specific) for detecting the presence of SARS-CoV-2. These tests also process on a small handheld device in about 30 minutes or less.
**Rapid-PCRs and Rapid LAMPS are more ‘accurate’ than rapid antigens meaning they have a lower incidence of false positives/false negatives. Rapid antigens only have an accuracy of 80% in asymptomatic patients.
#3: Rapid Antigen
Many of us have bought at least one of these 15-minute tests, swirled a q-tip in our nose, and conducted our own science experiment to see if our recent bout of the sniffles is covid.
Unlike the PCR test which looks for RNA, the rapid antigen tests look for proteins- specifically the N-protein on the surface of the covid-19 virus.
The presence of that protein on your nasal swab, when mixed with the test solution, will create that dreaded double line.
The limitation of rapid antigens, however, is that they are not super sensitive; you need to have a significant viral load for the test to result positive. Thus these tests have a high incidence of false negatives.
If you are traveling or gathering, modMD recommends only using test results from a rapid antigen you have taken right before (no more than 2 hours) you are scheduled to socialize.
It is also recommended to take multiple sequential antigen tests for the highest probability of accuracy. Dr. Lisa Dabby, one of the founders of modMD, suggests taking two tests 24 hours apart.
You can buy a 2 pack of these at your local drugstore for around $25, making these accessible to use regularly.
We Can All Ace These Tests!
Before you travel, we recommend getting a lab based RT-PCR test no more than 48 hours before your departure date. You might want to encourage anyone you are traveling with and anyone you are meeting at your destination, to synchronize your pre-gathering PCR testing.
During your stay:
It's A Family Affair! Those who test together stay together.
One great way to add an extra level of safety to your gatherings is to set up onsite rapid antigen (or rapid PCR/Rapid LAMP) testing for your group.
Option 1: Ask everyone to take an over-the-counter rapid antigen (or the new over- the counter-LAMP test) no more than 2 hours before the start of your event.
Option 2: Have a modMD nurse come to your home or office! If you are in an area of the U.S where modMD offers concierge service, you can arrange for a modMD nurse to your location to administer rapid antigen or rapid PCR tests as your friends and family are arriving.
When you get home from, what we hope has been fun, fulfilling, and free of travel fiascos, head back to modMD and get a post-travel RT-PCR test!
modMD offers walk-up/drive-through testing with same-day results in Los Angeles.
In the greater Los Angeles, Atlanta, and New York areas, (as well as other select locations in the U.S), modMD can send a concierge nurse to your home or office to test just you, or your whole entourage!
My Flight Is In 2 Days And I Just Tested Positive For Covid-19!
Should I cancel my travel plans?!!
Testing positive before a trip is pretty much the absolute worst. However, it is better than not testing and giving covid to your friends and family.
The good news is that, depending on whether you have any flexibility built into your travel plans, you may still be able to jump on a plane and see your loved ones.
Once you test positive on a lab based PCR, you should plan to isolate for 10 days.
If you are feeling better after 5 days, you can start testing yourself with a rapid antigen test.
If you test negative on a rapid antigen at 5 days, you can leave isolation as early as 6 days.
You do not need to keep taking PCR tests. The sensitivity of a PCR test may indicate you are positive long after you are considered non-infectious.
If you decide to travel after leaving isolation, it is strongly recommended that you wear a high-quality/well-fitting mask if you are taking any form of public transportation.
If your holiday plans include indoor socializing, please wear a mask around others until you have passed the 10-day marker.
Parting Tips For Your Bon Voyage!
Test! Before, during, and after travel!.
Vaccinate and Boost.
Essential packing list: Masks (N-95s and K-N95s are the best), hand sanitizer + alcohol wipes, covid-19 antigen home tests.