Rethinking Our Relationship with Travel

By Christina Moylan, September 18, 2020
A message from Christina Moylan, Director of Public Health Emergency Preparedness.

Public Health Column introduction video. 

I love to travel. I’m a particular fan of road trips. Over the years, our family has logged a lot of miles on the car during summers and holidays, crisscrossing various parts of the United States to see new things and escape our day-to-day lives. We have accumulated plenty of inside jokes and stories from these experiences – like the time that Taco Bell in Iowa got our order wrong and felt so bad they gave us 20 additional tacos to make up for the mistake. After travel, we’re glad to be home, with new perspectives and re-energized for what lays ahead. 

Since March, the furthest away from Ithaca I’ve been is Syracuse. 

COVID-19 is requiring that we all re-think our relationship with travel. What may have been an easy decision at this time last year to hop in the car, a bus, or an airplane is no longer quite so simple. Travel, unfortunately, puts yourself and others at risk for contracting and spreading COVID-19. The Tompkins County Health Department has shared repeatedly that travel and subsequent social gatherings have contributed to spikes in positive cases in our area.   

"If you do choose to travel, please take every precaution you can to keep yourself healthy to avoid bringing COVID-19 back into our community."

Christina Moylan, Director of Public Health Emergency Preparedness

Forgoing travel for meaningful events in our lives, like weddings, funerals, family visits, or religious events is particularly difficult. These are experiences that we cannot do-over or feel the same level of closeness and connection when we are not physically there. However, the combination of travel with exposure to groups of people who may not be adhering to the same recommended public health behaviors that you are, can result in viral transmission – and the possibility of bringing it back with you into Tompkins County. The risk is especially pronounced if you are traveling to a state experiencing a significant community spread of COVID-19.   

Christina Moylan

Christina Moylan, Director of Public Health Emergency Preparedness

So how do we navigate these difficult decisions about travel? There is not an easy answer. The bottom line is, if you absolutely don’t have to travel, please do not. Decline, postpone, or ask if there are ways you can interact virtually. Our Community Agreement and travel guidelines require that we refrain from personal travel whenever possible. This means that each one of us will miss out on things that we want to do at times.  

If you do choose to travel, please take every precaution you can to keep yourself healthy to avoid bringing COVID-19 back into our community. Other areas of the country are not practicing the same level of heightened precautions that we are. Even when others around you may not do so – wear a face covering, maintain six feet of physical distance and practice good hand hygiene.  

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention maintains an extensive travel page. Also remember that New York State requires that you submit a Travelers Health Form and complete a 14-day quarantine when returning from a restricted state. 

COVID-19 will be with us through the spring, so it’s a good time to begin thinking about how you will handle travel during the spring semester. Have conversations with those around you to be clear that travel back and forth from Ithaca should not happen. Review the spring academic calendar and be aware that “spring break” will not occur as it has in the past. Plan to remain in the Tompkins County area for as much of the spring semester as you can. It’s a surefire way to minimize positive cases. 

Let’s keep our numbers low, and our spirits high! 


Christina Moylan, Ph.D.
Director of Public Health Emergency Preparedness