With the COVID-19 coronavirus spreading, should older adults be flying? (Photo: Getty)
If you are 65 years of age or older or have a chronic medical condition, you may want to think twice about air travel given the COVID-19 coronavirus (SARS-CoV2) situation. Think twice may include trying to recall if you actually have your own private jet.
If you don’t have your own airplane, then consider the recommendations that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website now has for those at higher risk for bad COVID-19 outcomes. As the CDC website explains, “older adults and people who have severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease seem to be at higher risk for more serious COVID-19 illness. Early data suggest older people are twice as likely to have serious COVID-19 illness.” (If you want to learn more about why such illnesses tend to be more serious in older adults, Miriam Knoll, MD has previously written for Forbes on this topic.) Nowhere on the CDC web page does it explicitly tell older individuals or those with weaker immune systems to avoid air travel. Nevertheless, take a look at the actual recommendations:
- Stock up on supplies
- Take everyday precautions to keep space between yourself and others
- When you go out in public, keep away from others who are sick, limit close contact and wash your hands often.
- Avoid crowds as much as possible.
- During a COVID-19 outbreak an outbreak in your community, stay home as much as possible.
These recommendations don’t exactly scream that it’s OK to get on a commercial flight. After all, commercial flights that aren’t ghost flights tend to have crowds on them called passengers. Completely avoiding other passengers might require either riding on the wing or spending the entire flight in the bathroom chanting, “don’t come in here. There’s bad stuff in here.” Plus, how can you “keep space between yourself and others” when you are so close to your neighbors that you can’t quite tell which seat belt is whose? These CDC web page even says, “avoid crowds, especially in poorly ventilated spaces.” And spring breeze is probably not the first thing that you think of when on a commercial flight.
Mike Stobbe reported for the Associated Press that “the White House overruled health officials who wanted to recommend that elderly and physically fragile Americans be advised not to fly on commercial airlines because of the new coronavirus.” However, Katie Miller, the Press Secretary for Vice President Mike Pence, tweeted the following about this AP report:
Regardless of who actually said what or did what, it is hard to reconcile the current CDC recommendations with older adults taking a commercial flight. Thus, if you are 65 years or older, have a chronic medical condition like diabetes, heart disease, lung disease, or cancer, are on medications such as steroids that may weaken your immune system, or have some other reason why your immune system may not at peak condition, you may want to do whatever you can to avoid air travel. That includes canceling or postponing flights if feasible. Unless, of course, you have your own plane.
In fact, other aspects of the CDC recommendations essentially paint the general picture that older individuals and others with weaker immune systems should begin to distance themselves from others. That doesn’t mean start acting aloof and cold and saying, “bye, Felicia” to everyone. Rather, it means maintaining more physical distance from others. If you are in the higher risk group, prepare to spend more time at home.
When you are older or have chronic medical medical conditions, the recommendation usually isn’t too interact less with people. In fact, meeting new people can be a great way to cope with loneliness and other challenges. But these are not typical times. A potentially deadly and not yet well-understood infectious disease is spreading and the situation continues to evolve. Social distancing doesn’t mean cut off all social ties. Technology now allows you to maintain and even grow social ties without always having to be physically next to each other. For example, you can start a massive amount of different hashtags or like everything that everyone says on Twitter. The CDC also isn’t recommending that you become a hermit. Just make sure that face-to-face interaction is not literally face-to-face. Also, make sure that the people you do interact with in person are not sick and know what precautions to take to keep themselves and you from getting infected.