A silver train leaves Los Angeles at 7 a.m. and travels east at 60 mph. At the exact same time, a blue train departs Chicago, heading west at 55 mph. Both trains carry 100 passengers. When they cross paths, how many passengers will have COVID-19?
If you’re thinking there’s no way to know how many folks on these trains are infected, you’ve answered correctly. The same is true for other modes of travel, from airplanes to Uber. Because people who carry the coronavirus can be contagious without showing symptoms, boarding public transportation always poses unknown risks. Even if you drive solo (the safest way to travel), you’re not 100% in the clear, because you could still catch the virus at your destination.
The point of this exercise isn’t to suggest never leaving home, but to be aware of the risks and take proper precautions, especially during this time of sharply rising case numbers. The CDC offers solid advice and resources for travelers. This holiday season, health officials recommend avoiding travel, but if you must hit the road, please brush up on the latest advisories and tips, including California’s new travel and quarantine guidelines and UCI’s travel notices.
Jack and Jill, neighbors who live at home with their families, both work at a coffeeshop and carpool to work regularly. They’re comfortable around each other and do not wear masks during their 18-minute commute.
As a barista, Jill interacts with dozens of customers. She wears her mask and there is Plexiglas at her station. Though the coffeeshop requires customers to wear masks, there is occasionally a non-compliant person. Jack mainly works in the back where he receives deliveries and interacts with vendors.
At the end of their shifts, Jack and Jill drive home together, removing their masks for the short commute home. It’s chilly, so the windows are rolled up and the heater is circulating indoor air.
One day, Jack’s dad begins exhibiting symptoms, tests positive for COVID-19, and is admitted to the hospital. The county is notified and deploys contact tracers. It is discovered that Jack is an asymptomatic COVID-19 patient and the source of his dad’s infection. He notifies his workplace and isolates for 10 days from the date of his test.
Contact tracers work to identify Jack’s close contacts. Although Jack interacts with vendors, the only person who fits the definition of close contact is Jill because they were within 6 feet of each other for 15 minutes or more. Because Jill is considered a close contact, she now must quarantine for 14 days and miss work.
After 7 days of quarantine, Jill gets a COVID-19 test and tests positive. Like Jack, Jill was asymptomatic. It’s possible that Jill was exposed to COVID-19 while carpooling with Jack.
What Jack and Jill should have done while ridesharing is worn masks, kept the windows down, and kept the middle seat open to help reduce the risk of transmitting COVID-19 while carpooling. For more information on how to safely rideshare, explore California Department of Public Health’s new Rideshare Toolkit.