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Families switching vacation plans, with an eye toward safer ones

The Marcises are among many Long Islanders looking for an escape this summer, but in a way that limits their risk of contracting the coronavirus. The family changed their summer plans from the beaches of Sorrento to the beaches of South Carolina. Credit: Johnny Milano

After Michael and Lorraine Marcis and their four sons canceled their trip to Italy because of COVID-19, the Farmingdale family booked a house in South Carolina for a week.

“The idea is we could still quarantine in a way and still get away and have some type of vacation,” Lorraine Marcis said.

The Marcises are among many Long Islanders looking for an escape this summer — but in a way that limits their risk of contracting the coronavirus. Vacation plans are being scrapped and new ones, with an eye toward safety, are being crafted.

Like the Marcises, Deborah Orgel Gordon, 56, of Glen Head, had European travel plans — a trip to Paris with her son to celebrate his 30th birthday. With that canceled, she’s scrambling to come up with an alternative.

“I was looking into RVs and house rentals,” Gordon said. “I have a little fear of going to hotels: Are they cleaning it right and who was in the room before me?”

Gordon also is worried about being physically close to others in common spaces.

Experts said renting a private house may be safer than booking a hotel room.

“You’re reducing the density of people you’re around,” said Dr. Alan Bulbin, director of infectious diseases at St. Francis Hospital, The Heart Center, in Flower Hill.

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In a hotel, you may share elevators or pass closely by other guests in the lobby.

“All of those things do add risk,” he said.

Michael Marcis, 47, said staying in a house gives his family options.

“If we’re not comfortable with the restaurants, we can cook at home or take it out,” he said.

The house has a pool, so they can hang out there if the nearby beach is overly crowded, he said.

If you rent a house, ask when the previous tenant is leaving, because the virus can live on some surfaces for hours or days, and ask about disinfecting procedures, said Donald Schaffner, a professor of food science at Rutgers University and an expert on microbial risk assessment.

If you stay in a hotel, “It’s worth reaching out and asking, ‘What are you guys doing differently now that we’re in these COVID-19 pandemic times’ and see what kind of answer you get,” he said.

Even so, Schaffner and other experts said, studies indicate the risk of contracting the virus from surfaces is far lower than from being in close contact with others, so the focus should be on social distancing.

“If I were somebody who was older or at higher risk [because of underlying health conditions], I might rethink the idea of traveling altogether,” Schaffner said.

The Marcises are driving rather than flying to reduce risk. Bulbin said that may be a good strategy.

“It’s all about less contact with the public at large, and you’re maintaining that social distancing more easily when you’re in a car,” he said.

When you make stops while driving, avoid going into cramped gas station markets, wear a mask when in public and regularly use hand sanitizer, Bulbin said.

With air travel, “It really is difficult to completely do social distancing,” said Dr. David Hirschwerk, an infectious disease specialist and vice chair of medicine at Long Island Jewish Medical Center and North Shore University Hospital.

Planes long have had air recirculation systems to reduce exposure to viruses, and initiatives some airlines have taken recently — such as limiting the number of people on flights — reduce risk, he said.

But, he added, “I think because it is many people in the same area for a potentially extended period of time, it still does raise concerns.”

When you are exploring a vacation destination, “I would choose anything related to the outdoors for any sightseeing that you do” rather than go indoors, where risk is higher, he said.

Gordon said one challenge in searching for a vacation destination is that many restaurants, museums and other typical highlights of travel are closed or have restrictions, and events such as concerts are barred.

“I’m just dying to go away, but I can’t figure out what to do because everything is so limited,” she said. “A lot of things are not opened yet, and you’re not sure when they’re going to open."

A number of states have quarantine orders for visitors. Some require a 14-day self-isolation for all out-of-state visitors, with limited exceptions, before venturing out in public. Others, such as Florida, single out states like New York with a large number of COVID-19 cases.

Florida has checkpoints at which out-of-state visitors fill out forms that include travel details and contact information. A Florida transportation department spokeswoman did not respond to questions on how the state enforces the self-isolation requirement.

If you’re thinking of canceling flights, hotel reservations or other travel-related plans, first find out the current cancellation policies, said Cyndi Zesk, vice president for travel services for AAA Northeast. Most companies have relaxed rules because of the pandemic, but refund and travel-credit policies vary.

With Olivia Winslow

COVID-19 TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS

AAA created a map with COVID-19-related travel restrictions, including which states require 14 days of self-isolation for out-of-state visitors, or in some cases only visitors from high-coronavirus-caseload states like New York: https://bit.ly/2zW3eAP

SOURCE: AAA

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