It has been almost a year since COVID-19 put the world on lockdown. But as vaccinations start rolling out, people are looking forward to getting back to a new normal, which could include traveling. But, is it safe to travel yet? Becky Liu-Lastres, a professor of tourism crisis management at Indiana University, says the sense of perceived safety is highly subjective. How an individual evaluates a situation is largely influenced by personal experiences, surroundings and knowledge of the issue, she says. People should take a look at the evidence, such as the number of cases in the location they are traveling to and where they are coming from, consider the potential health consequences of COVID-19, and then make the judgment. Most experts agree that it won't be 100% safe to travel domestically until the US reaches herd immunity, and it won't be 100% safe to travel internationally until the country of origin and the destination both have herd immunity. While it is not realistic to ban all travel until all countries have herd immunity, Liu-Lastres says as long as the situation is being managed, meaning that people are recovering and no new cases are being reported nationwide or globally, then we are probably safe to travel again. When it comes to traveling out of the U.S., Liu-Lastres says it is up to each traveler to weigh the risk, as well as check the safety protocols of the country you wish to visit. If you absolutely must travel, Liu-Lastres says consider domestic destinations and carefully plan your trips. Choose to travel by car and search for information related to your transportation as well as your destinations, such as what self-protective measures you can take, where you are going to stay, and what attractions you are going to visit. When considering travel, think about the risks posed to you and your family, as well as the risks you pose to others. Liu-Lastres says sometimes, without noticing, asymptomatic travelers may spread the virus to local communities. That is one of the main reasons why travel bans are in place as a direct response to manage the pandemic. Not only does traveling expose you to new people and places that could increase your risk of catching the virus, but you could expose others to the virus without knowing it or become a burden on a hospital system of a country already struggling to treat residents, Liu-Lastres explains. When it comes to deciding whether to stay home or not, Liu-Lastres says the most important thing is to do your research and realistically weigh the pros and cons of your decision for yourself, your family, and your community.
In other news, vaping among Indiana teens is declining, according to the 29th Indiana Youth Survey. The survey, administered in Spring 2020 by the Institute for Research on Addictive Behavior at Prevention Insights, found nearly one-fourth of 12th-grade students in Indiana reported having used a vaping device in the month prior to taking the survey, lower than reported in 2018. Vaping was the second most common substance used by Indiana teens, according to the survey, with female students in all grades except 12th reporting higher rates of vaping than male students. Ruth Gassman, who led the study, says the decrease may be due to the heightened awareness of the dangers of vaping, which have become clearer after the outbreak of deaths and illnesses reported in the media. However, she says given that vaping devices may contain extremely high levels of nicotine, THC, and/or other chemicals, it remains a concern that so many Indiana youth continue to use these products. When it comes to alcohol, the survey found that 5 percent of 6th-grade students reported drinking alcohol in the past month, ranging up to 29 percent for 12th-grade students. Additionally, female students reported higher rates of alcohol use in all grades except 6th. For students who drank alcohol in the past year, parents were the primary source of alcohol for 7th- and 8th- grade students, while high school students were most likely to report getting it at a party. And while rates of alcohol and cigarette use have declined steadily in the past two decades, rates of marijuana use have remained relatively unchanged, mirroring national data. Among Indiana 12th-grade students, 17 percent reported using marijuana in the past month. According to the survey, over two-thirds of 12th-grade students reported believing there is no risk or slight risk of harm from smoking marijuana once or twice a week. Gassman says youth are strongly impacted by their perceptions of a community’s norms. As states enact legislation legalizing or decriminalizing recreational marijuana use, and as messages normalizing marijuana use abound in music, movies, and other media, youth may be interpreting these messages to mean there is little harm or social disapproval in using marijuana, she says.