April 5 marks the start of spring break for Hall County and Gainesville students and families. Although COVID-19 vaccinations have increased and positive cases are declining, health officials warn travelers to take precautions.
Recommendations for travel
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance against nonessential travel remains in place, even for vaccinated individuals.
- Protect yourself by staying with relatives instead of in hotels and Airbnbs
- Get tested three days prior to travel, even if you're vaccinated
- Attending large gatherings such as weddings, concerts or sporting events can put you at higher risk for COVID-19
- Avoid crowds in restaurants, bars or fitness centers
- Continue wearings masks, washing hands and social distancing
- Recognize potential issues with travel methods. Air travel requires spending time in security lines and airport terminals as well as touching surfaces. It is also difficult to social distance on tight or crowded airplanes. However, the CDC stated most viruses aren’t spread as easily on planes due to the circulation and filtered air system. The risk with car travel comes with breaks at rest stops, restaurants and gas stations. If possible, the CDC recommends opening the windows or setting your car air conditioning on a non-recirculation mode when traveling.
- Get tested again 3-5 days after your trip and stay home and self-quarantine for a full 7 days after travel, even if your test is negative. If you don’t get tested, stay home and self-quarantine for 10 days after travel.
Source: More detailed information is available from the CDC
Mary Brackett, mother to a fourth grader at Davis Middle School, rented a beach house in St. Augustine, Florida, for the week of spring break. Brackett, who’s vaccinated, said she plans to purchase groceries and cook in the rental home to avoid crowded restaurants. She also opted to drive instead of fly to Florida and plans to be tested four days before leaving.
Although she still feels apprehensive about traveling during the pandemic, she said the COVID-19 precautions she has in place put her at ease. After a “grueling” year, Brackett said she wanted to treat her family to a Florida getaway.
“We’re going to be as safe as possible and get re-tested when we’re back. We just want to enjoy some family time but won’t forget about what’s needed to be safe,” Brackett said.
Hall County School District spokesman Stan Lewis said the district respects families’ personal choices about vacation.
“We do, however, encourage families to follow safe practice if they choose to travel,” Lewis said.
School staff have begun receiving vaccinations, and so far Lewis said less than half of Hall’s employees have been vaccinated.
Gainesville City School System Superintendent Jeremy Williams said about 60% of the Gainesville staff is vaccinated or scheduled to be vaccinated.
Williams echoed Lewis’ sentiments, saying while the system recognizes families and employees will be traveling, they are in no position to “restrict” their plans. Williams said Gainesville schools encourage families and employees to follow COVID-19 safety protocols to reduce any local COVID-19 impact.
Jessica Garrish, whose daughter is a junior at Gainesville High School and whose son is an eighth grader at Gainesville Middle School, said she feels more confident about in-person learning now that teachers have been vaccinated. While Garrish’s family will be staying at home during the break, she said she hopes local families will be “COVID-19 cautious” when traveling. However, Garrish said she understands families are anxious for the return of “normal” activities and trips.
“I get it. I get why families are traveling during the break and I also know most will be safe,” Garrish said. “I know our schools will be cautious and alert if cases do rise as well.”
One Hall County parent, Diana Osorio will be staying at home this spring break due to a change of plans. Last spring break, Diana Osorio and her family planned a trip to Disney World in Orlando. However, when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down all theme parks, Osorio and her eight children decided to self-isolate in their Orlando rental home. Osorio said the children enjoyed the pool and change of scenery, despite being isolated.
This year, the family had planned to visit Charleston, South Carolina, but one of their sons broke his leg. Instead, the family will enjoy a “staycation” for spring break.
As the weather warms up, Supriya Mannepalli, Northeast Georgia Medical Center’s medical director of Infectious Disease Medicine, said it’s important local families adhere to the CDC’s guidelines and socialize outdoors where social distancing is possible. Mannepalli said these precautions will avoid a rise in COVID-19 cases following spring break.
“We certainly don’t want to see our numbers rise two weeks after spring break — as we have with most holidays in the last year,” Mannepalli said.