What Travelers Should Know About COVID-19, the Novel Coronavirus

Concern In Japan As Mystery Virus Spreads
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If you have upcoming travel, you might not be surprised to learn that the spread of a new strain of coronavirus, COVID-19, might alter your plans. As of April 6, the number of cases has surpassed 1.2 million globally, killing more than 67,000 people. The virus has grounded thousands of flights, and drastically altered travel plans as borders are closed, and entire cities are quarantined.

On March 19, the U.S. Department of State issued a Level 4 global travel advisory, advising all U.S. citizens to avoid international travel. Those who are already abroad were advised to return to the U.S. or be prepared to remain oversea indefinitely. Additionally, the CDC is recommending that all travelers, especially those with pre-existing health issues, avoid cruise ship travel—and many lines have canceled sailing.

The three major U.S. airlines—American, Delta, and United—have all drastically altered their flight schedules. American Airlines has suspended most of its long-haul international flights, including flights to Asia, Australia, Europe, New Zealand, and South America. It will fly just three routes—Dallas to London, Dallas to Tokyo, and Miami to London—in April. Meanwhile, Delta Air Lines has reduced its capacity by two-thirds, including parking up to 300 aircraft and canceling almost all flights to continental Europe for at least 30 days. United Airlines has cut capacity by 90 percent and is flying just six long-haul routes. Domestic flights are also fewer, as most carriers have drastically slashed flights into the New York City metropolitan area, one of the U.S.'s epicenters of the pandemic. Many carriers are also waiving change and cancellation fees in light of COVID-19; see below for a list of U.S.-based carriers' policies.

Carrier  Change Policy Refund Policy
Alaska Airlines Change and cancellation fees waived for travel scheduled through May 31, 2020. Changes must be made prior to travel. Credit for future travel, expires one year from date of issue.
American Airlines Change and cancellation fees are waived one time for previously-booked travel through May 31, 2020. Travelers can also cancel their trips. A one-time change fee will also be waived for all future travel booked through April 30, 2020. Credit for future travel in most cases, although full refunds available for select itineraries.
Delta Air Lines Any unused tickets in March or April are being extended to enable rebooking and travel until May 21, 2022. Delta is waiving change fees for all travel through May 31 and is evaluating the ongoing situation. In most cases, new tickets must used within a year from purchase. Additional change and cancellation policies are in place for passengers on South Korea, China, or Italy itineraries.  Passengers are issued credits for future travel.
Hawaiian Airlines Any flights booked through Dec. 31, 2020, are eligible for a fee-free trip change or cancellation. Most tickets must be rebooked by Dec. 31, 2020, or one year from the original ticket purchase date. Refunds provided for flights to South Korea from Feb. 24, 2020, through May 1, 2020.
JetBlue Change and cancellation fees waived on travel through May 31, 2020, regardless of the purchase date. JetBlue is waiving change and cancellation fees for all new bookings made between March 27, 2020, and April 30, 2020, for travel through Jan. 4, 2021 Passengers who wish to cancel will be issued a credit for future travel.
United Airlines Change fees waived on all new bookings through April 30, 2020. Change fees are also waived on all tickets, domestic or international, scheduled through May 31, 2020. New flights must be within 12 months of initial booking and fare difference must be paid, where applicable. Passengers will be issued a voucher for ticket value, to be used within 12 months of the original ticket issue.

On March 11, the U.S barred the entry of all foreign nationals who had been in China, Iran, and Schengen-zone European countries in the prior 14 days. As of March 16, the ban also applies to the United Kingdom and Ireland. On March 18, the U.S.-Canada border closed to all non-essential travel. Citizens and legal permanent residents returning to the U.S. from high-risk areas must enter the country through one of 13 designated airports:

  • Boston-Logan International Airport (BOS), Massachusetts
  • Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD), Illinois
  • Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW), Texas
  • Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DTW), Michigan
  • Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL), Hawaii
  • Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL), Georgia
  • John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), New York
  • Los Angeles International Airport, (LAX), California
  • Miami International Airport (MIA), Florida
  • Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR), New Jersey
  • San Francisco International Airport (SFO), California
  • Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA), Washington
  • Washington-Dulles International Airport (IAD), Virginia

If you have travels booked—especially to Europe or China—it’s advisable to reconsider your trip. If you're planning future travel, consider purchasing "cancel for any reason" (CFAR) travel insurance. On March 17, the U.S. government advised that a potential domestic travel ban was a possibility in the near future. While that hasn't yet occurred, the CDC did issue a travel advisory for three of the most affected states—New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut—on March 29.

What Is COVID-19?

In Dec. 2019, humans in Wuhan, China, became infected with a new strain of coronavirus named COVID-19 (also known as the coronavirus disease 2019, the Wuhan coronavirus, the novel coronavirus, and 2019-nCoV).

In broad terms, coronaviruses refer to a specific family of viruses that affect humans, mammals, and birds, with transmission occurring between species. While symptoms vary per species, humans usually develop respiratory illnesses from coronaviruses. Well-known coronaviruses include SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome outbreak), both of which have had significant outbreaks in the last 20 years. COVID-19 is a newly discovered coronavirus, with the first human infections being reported in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. The World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak to be a global health emergency on Jan. 30, 2020.

Since the situation regarding COVID-19 is changing rapidly, travelers are advised to check with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Prevention (CDC) for the latest developments.

The Spread of Coronavirus

While COVID-19 is thought to have originated in Wuhan, China, where the outbreak was first reported, it has infected people across the world. China was the longstanding epicenter of the virus, with more than 80,000 confirmed cases, until March 16, when the total number of cases and deaths outside China surpassed the total number of cases in China.

More than 200 countries and territories have at least one diagnosed case of COVID-19. Spain and the United States have the most cases, with 130,759 and 307,318 cases, respectively. An additional 712 cases were isolated on the Diamond Princess cruise ship, docked in Japan.

As of April 6, 67,594 people have died from COVID-19. The majority of the deaths are in Europe, where 15,889 have died in Italy alone.

Symptoms of Coronavirus

The three main symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Many symptoms are mild, and some infected patients might not show any signs of illness at all. In severe cases, which typically occur in people who have weakened immune systems, such as the sick or the elderly, respiratory infection can lead to pneumonia, organ failure, or death.

COVID-19 seems to spread from human to human through close contact. The incubation period is thought to range from two to 14 days. There is currently no cure, vaccine, or antiviral treatment. Infected patients with no underlying complications will likely recover on their own with rest and fluids.

If you are showing signs of respiratory illness, stay home, cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, wash your hands frequently, and sanitize frequently-touched surfaces. Contact your health provider if you are showing symptoms and have recently traveled to China.

Protecting Yourself from Coronavirus

While you might see travelers wearing masks, they will not prevent you from contracting the coronavirus. Masks should only be worn by people who are coughing or sneezing, as the mask may help prevent the spread of any illness (this includes everything from the common cold to COVID-19). Healthy people only need to wear masks if they are in constant direct contact with an infected person (i.e., health providers).

The most critical step to preventing the spread of COVID-19 is frequently washing your hands with soap and water or using alcohol-based hand sanitizer. You should also avoid touching your face with unwashed hands.

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