(CNN) — “Are we there yet?”
“My family will not be together this year for the first time in 27 years. It’ll be me and my wife in our bubble, and we’ll have a nice Zoom gathering, I suspect, to see how everybody is doing,” Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer before Thanksgiving.
The surge of new Covid-19 infections and hospitalizations in the United States is “substantially steeper than anything we saw back in the spring with New York and New Jersey or in the summer with the Southeast,” Collins said.
“This is significantly worse. It’s moving faster. It is basically putting everybody in the country at risk,” he said. “People need to be deciding right about now, if they haven’t already, how are they going to keep themselves and their families safe at this time of great peril.”
But if you must travel, here are 10 tips to protect you and your family from Covid-19 along the way.
1. Weigh the decision to travel
To be sure you’re not sick and taking the virus along with you to your loved ones, quarantine with your family or traveling companions for two weeks — that’s the typical amount of time it takes for the virus to replicate and subside, even if you have no symptoms.
Some 48 million Americans are expected to hit the road for Thanksgiving this year, AAA predicts.
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“The more cases at your destination, the more likely you are to get infected during travel and spread the virus to others when you return,” the CDC says.
2. Prep the car in advance
Avoid potential car problems that might involve unintended contact with others along the way by having your car fully serviced before your trip — at minimum check oil, fluids, breaks, tires and antifreeze.
Pack several back-up phone chargers, and just in case you lose cell service in some remote area, download your main maps to your phone or GPS.
Experts advise travelers to avoid dining inside on road trips to reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission.
Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images
3. Don’t forget to safeguard the humans
Prep a first-aid kit for the humans in the car, too, along with plenty of water and healthy snacks, as well as extra masks for travelers older than 2.
Along with that highly protective mask, you should definitely bring disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizer with greater than 60% ethanol or 70% isopropyl alcohol. According to the CDC, that’s the level needed to kill most coronaviruses.
4.. Carefully plan your route
5. Try not to stop
If it’s at all possible, try to complete your road trip without stopping.
“Making stops along the way for gas, food or bathroom breaks can put you and your traveling companions in close contact with other people and frequently touched surfaces,” warns the CDC.
That’s obviously not going to happen if you are traveling with little kids for more than a few hours.
Bathroom breaks can be tricky — some gas stations and fast-food restaurants have closed their restrooms — so If the opportunity to use the toilet presents itself, encourage everyone in the car to do so.
6. Sanitize everything you touch
Always wear a mask when you leave your car, suggests the American Academy of Pediatrics, and carry sanitizing wipes and hand sanitizer to wipe down door handles and knobs and toilets.
After using the restroom, wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds (the amount of time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice), open the bathroom door with a hand towel, and use hand sanitizer before touching your car keys or door handles after leaving the facilities.
When refilling at a gas station, use sanitizing wipes on the gas nozzle handles and payment buttons at the pumps before you touch them, then sanitize your hands immediately after you’re finished.
7. Keep the windows cracked
Traveling in a car is obviously “a very tight, enclosed space,” said Dr. Henry Wu, an associate professor of infectious diseases at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta.
That’s less of an issue if you’re traveling with immediate family from your quarantine bubble. In cases where traveling with people outside your bubble is unavoidable, everyone in the car should be masked.
In either scenario, crack the windows, even if it’s cold or rainy, said Joseph Allen, director of the Healthy Buildings program at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
He and his team studied airborne transmission inside cars and found “rolling down the windows just a couple inches” can boost air flow and dilute the virus.
Allen also warns against using the recirculation button in your car on the trip. That’s the symbol of a car with an arrow in the middle.
“if you’re going to have the air conditioning or the heater on be sure that you don’t have the recirculating option selected so you’re breathing the same air,” Allen said. “You want fresh outside air to enter the car.”
Packing your own food to eat outside or opting for drive-through dining is safer than eating inside.
Mariah Tauger/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images
8. Have a dining plan
When it comes to reducing the risk of contracting Covid-19 while eating on the road, it’s always going to be safer eating outside, where the virus can dissipate into the open air, experts say.
The partitions and six-foot spacing installed in many indoor restaurants isn’t enough protection, said Linsey Marr, the co-author of a paper on airborne transmission of Covid-19 via very small droplets called aerosols that can float for hours.
“I think the six feet indoors is not enough by itself” and “Plexiglas panels protect against large droplets, but they do not protect against aerosols,” said Marr, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech.
“You have to have good ventilation in that bar or restaurant,” she added. “And since I can’t wear a mask while I’m eating, I’m just avoiding indoor restaurants until this is over.”
Getting takeout or using a drive-through and eating in your car or sitting outside is a better option, experts say.
Hotel chains have upped their disinfecting measures. Experts advise steering clear of common areas.
Courtesy Marriott International
9. Choose your hotel carefully
If you have to stay at a hotel during your trip, consider booking one with outdoor access, Marr suggests.
“This is the time to stay in one of the cheaper motels that has the outdoor corridor so you don’t have to go indoors, through the lobby, into the elevator or through the hallways,” Marr said.
“You just go up the stairs outside to your room,” she added. “And those types of rooms usually have their own air conditioning or heating systems so there’s no exchange of air between different rooms.”
If you can do it, book a room that’s been vacant for more than 24 hours as well as cleaned and disinfected. That’s an extra precaution, as is bringing your own pillows and pillowcases and even an extra sheet set.
“In terms of the air quality, I think the longer the room’s been vacant, the safer it should be,” said Emory’s Wu.
Try to avoid other guests as much as possible, Wu advises. Many hotels have closed common spaces such as pools, restaurants and public bathrooms, but you can also avoid interactions with others by checking in and out during off hours.
Carry disinfecting wipes with you as you navigate shared spaces, then use hand sanitizer or wash your hands with soap and water for a full 20 seconds.
When you get to the room wipe down door handles, light switches, remote controls and bathroom fixtures with disinfecting wipes before using them, Wu suggests.
10. Take precautions when you arrive
Ideally, you’ve quarantined before you left and taken proper safety precautions during your road trip. If not, then try to quarantine when you arrive.
“Don’t rely on a negative test on Tuesday before Thanksgiving and think that clears you,” said pediatrician Dr. David Rubin, who directs PolicyLab, a research and public policy center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia that’s tracking Covid-19 cases in communities across the country.
“Hunkering your family down for a week and a half is your best way to assure that you’re likely to be negative,” Rubin added.
“The decisions we make now … really determine just how bad the depths of winter are when it comes to the spread of the virus,” Allen said.
“If we’re irresponsible for a short-term gain through the holidays, it really can come back and bite us weeks later with an expansion of cases,” Allen said. “And cases lead to hospitalizations and hospitalizations lead to death.”
CNN’s Shelby Lin Erdman contributed to this report.