Author: Carl Arriaga, Two Hats Travel Consultants CEO with 25 years of experience working in pharmaceutical bio-level facilities. My expertise centered around helping design bio labs, writing safety protocols, and providing training to scientists and technicians on the correct safety and methodology when working in biosafety level 2 and 3+ labs.
Goal: To utilize this knowledge in providing (updated form 2023) guidance on how best to travel safely during the Covid-19 pandemic and to provide information, training, and biosafety resources depending on the destination.
As of this writing, (1/12/23) global Covid fatigue has caused human behavior to make decisions that shift the focus from the danger of a Covid infection towards the strong desire to get back to our pre-pandemic lives. However, the progression of Covid’s viral evolution (as we have seen with Alpha, Delta, Omicron, and Omicron variants such as XBB and XBB.1.5) is not over. In the case of the Omicron variant XBB, it has been able to evade the immune system but has a lower infection rate, which is why currently t is not the dominant strain. Variant XBB.1.5 has a mutation that gives it a higher rate of infection and also allows it to evade the immune system. This is just the change that a virus would benefit from to ensure its survival until another mutation enhances/knocks out those attributes.
Since the pandemic has not been officially called over by the W.H.O. this up-to-date data suggests that as we travel, we still need to pay close attention as the virus continues to evolve. Along with existing global Covid hot spots, (where new and maybe more deadly variants may arise) taking proper precautions when on a plane or in high-density tourist areas may save your life. If done right, you could find a happy and healthy median between Covid preparedness and a normal travel experience.
In early 2020, expert recommendations from Two Hats Travel Consultants had already been given to two customers who were planning a two-week trip to Portugal. Covid-19 was just starting to reach pandemic status but luckily no cases were reported in Portugal at that time. Due to my background, early on I recognized and expected the oncoming pandemic and I prepared my travelers by providing them with the correct PPE recommendations. They were outfitted with N95 masks and encouraged to use gloves and hand sanitizer. Neither of these travelers had a science/medical background and (like most of us at that time) seemed indifferent to Covid-19 working its way through the world.
Initially, I tried to talk them out of traveling altogether, but they were determined to press on and the thought of them traveling under these conditions made me nervous. I did not want either of them to come home sick and was also concerned with the potential of them spreading Covid as well. Thankfully, they came home healthy two weeks later having had a good travel experience. Interestingly, just two days later the first Covid cases were reported in Portugal indicating local transmission was ongoing for weeks. I sincerely hope that the Covid-19 biosafety plan Two Hats Travel Consultants provided played a role in bringing them home healthy and safe.