If 2020 taught us anything about coronavirus infection, it was that one person can transmit the virus to another person — or to many, many people.

These events are called super spreaders, “where one person infects multiple people at a gathering, usually because of close contact in crowd settings,” said Ralf Hilber, senior operations specialist at Global Rescue. “The infected person may have symptoms of COVID-19 or appear perfectly healthy.”

There are many examples of super spreader events. “These events have a commonality of close contact in an enclosed space. In one case the outbreak was traced to a man who tested positive for COVID-19 a few days after visiting five discos in one night. Contact tracing was able to track down a vast number of people at one of those venues that evening and 54 people were reported positive for coronavirus after contact tracing and testing,” Hilber said. “Outdoor super spreader events have also occurred, such as the annual Bike Week mass gathering of motorcycle enthusiasts in North Dakota with thousands of positive COVID-19 tests across the United States after the rally.”

With spring break fast approaching, Global Rescue medical experts highlight what travelers should be aware of as they gather with others from all over the world.

Super Spreading Spring Break

In 2020, GPS tracking of seven million US college students who traveled for spring break before lockdowns suggests they may have brought coronavirus home with them and spread it in their communities. The increase in coronavirus case growth rates peaked two weeks after spring break. 

This year, several colleges altered their spring calendars to discourage travel and the chances of spreading COVID-19. Hofstra University instead scheduled five separate mental health (or “catch up”) days off and Stony Brook University cancelled spring break and condensed its semester.

Other schools cancelling their spring breaks include Florida State University, Ohio State University, Boston University and the University of Michigan, where students will receive two one-day “well-being breaks” without any scheduled academic activities in February and March.

Destination Restrictions

Destinations are also making some changes. Miami Beach planned on hosting organized events to discourage large hotel pool parties and encourage curated gatherings for outdoor, socially distanced movies and concerts. The goal was to support local businesses by staying open for tourism but with COVID-19 numbers on the rise, city commissioners ultimately voted against the idea.

Travel restrictions are in place for many popular spring break destinations. Visitors to Antigua may be subject to a coronavirus test on arrival. The local authorities may instruct you to enter government-provided quarantine or to self-quarantine in your accommodation. Mexico requires a viral test one to three days before a trip. 

A ski vacation may also be harder to plan during the coronavirus pandemic. According to the Travel Channel, spring break falls during prime skiing season at many winter resorts: Colorado, Vermont, Canada, Utah and Wyoming. When a few resorts received infamy in early 2020 as après parties became virus breeding grounds, the season ended early. This year, with protocols in place, the difficulty is staffing. Federal foreign visa programs were frozen in June 2020, halting travel for about 7,000 international seasonal workers who make up 5 to 10% of the seasonal workforce at 470 resorts in 37 states.

Hoping to put a halt to rising case numbers, European nations — including France, Italy and Germany — have said they will keep their slopes closed into 2021. Switzerland is opting to keep its resorts open.

Predicting Super Spreaders

A team of Northwestern and Stanford University researchers created a computer model that accurately predicted the spread of COVID-19 in 10 major cities by analyzing three factors driving infection risk: where people go in the course of a day, how long they linger and how many other people are visiting the same place at the same time.

“Certain locations are also considered to be super spreaders: places with a propensity to infect a larger than average number of people,” said Jerich Eusebio, operations specialist at Global Rescue.

The research confirms most COVID-19 transmissions occur at super spreader sites — such as full-service restaurants, fitness centers and cafés — places where people remain in close quarters for extended periods. Staying at home is the best safety precaution but, if you do want to go somewhere, look for places with limited occupancy and go during off hours.

Here are some additional suggestions for 2021 spring break travel:

  • Stay outdoors. The odds of catching COVID-19 indoors are 18.7 times higher than in open-air environments, according to a study cited by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • Keep your distance. Stay at least 6 feet away from others, preferably more, advises Nebraska Medicine. “Even while people are outside, they should not relax their social distancing and wearing proper personal protection equipment should still be of high importance,” Hilber said.
  • Avoid large gatherings. More people mean a higher likelihood that someone attending is infected with COVID-19. A MIT study found limiting gatherings to 10 or fewer people could significantly reduce the number of super-spreading events and lower the overall number of infections. “You can avoid being in a super spreader event by avoiding any form of public gathering,” Hilber said.
  • Limit time indoors. “Plan any indoors stay to be as short as possible and keep your distance while wearing recommended personal protective equipment, keeping the minimum 6-foot distance and washing your hands frequently,” Hilber said.
  • Know the area’s health resources. If you’re traveling to Belize, for example, you’ll want to know that first responders are generally not available outside of major cities and medical evacuation insurance is recommended. According to a study by Bloom Consulting, more than half of respondents said they are likely to change a destination for one with a better health care system and low COVID-19 cases.
  • Choose a location with protections in place. With the Jamaica Cares program, visitors to Jamaica will pay a mandatory fee and automatically receive access to traveller protection and emergency medical services, including COVID-19, natural disasters and other emergencies.
  • Sign up for a travel protection services membership. A membership provides travelers with a safety net for any trip, including pre-trip intelligence, 24/7 medical advisory services, field rescue and medical evacuation services.

Global Rescue has been a leader and pioneer in the travel protection services industry since in 2004. We provide the finest integrated medical, security, travel risk and crisis management services available anywhere, delivered by our teams of critical care paramedics, physicians, nurses and military special operations veterans. Click here to learn more.