Making sense of my travel risk

I am fully vaxed against COVID, and trying to get a handle on the risks I might incur during a road trip. CDC is advising vaxed people to wear masks when in areas of “substantial” or “high” prevalence. OK, can do. But assuming I do wear a mask in these areas, what is my risk of getting sick?

Here’s the CDC map:

As a random example, take Ionia County, Michigan. It’s listed as having “substantial” community transmission. OK, I can wear a mask while I’m there. In trying to gauge personal risk of exposure, “substantial” sounds kind of disconcerting. But if I go to the map halfway down this page, Ionia County’s seven-day average per-capita rate is just 7 new cases per day. A typical person with mild/moderate COVID is contagious for about ten days, so right now there are about 70 known cases of COVID per 100,000 people in Ionia County. If I eat in a couple of restaurants and spend a night in a hotel, I might cross paths with… a couple dozen people? So my chance of crossing paths with a known contagious person is about 24 * 70/100,000 = 0.0001%. And I’m vaxed and wearing a mask (except for when actively eating). On the face of it, it seems like my risk of getting sick is pretty slim.


There’s at least one faulty assumption there, i.e. that the known positive cases are roaming freely. A better assumption is that most of them are probably isolating at home, and that the contagious people I actually ought to be concerned about are asymptomatic and untested.

How do I make sense of this? Is now a dumb time for a vaxed/masked person to take a long weekend road trip to/through areas with “substantial” community transmission that involves hotel stays and restaurant visits (but no bars, concerts/festivals, etc.)?

It’s a complicated question with many factors involved so the answer will, of course, be complicated.

However, wearing a mask (properly!) is always more protection than not wearing a mask.

If you’re traveling in your own vehicle and staying in a hotel by yourself that should be relatively low risk. Eating in restaurants is a bit more risky, although most restaurants I"m aware of are still taking measures to protect staff and customers. Lower risk would be ordering take-out/pick-up from a restaurant and eating the food in your hotel room (or vehicle).

But your risk of contracting the virus is not zero no matter what precautions you take or where you go - or even if you stay home.

As for whether such a trip makes sense or is wise… only you can answer that for yourself, based on why you’re taking that trip and your own tolerance for risk.

I agree! Back to basics, observe the known protocols. Stand apart, order delivery food, wear a mask, carry hand sanitizer on your person and use it every time you touch something.

Good Luck!

We just spent a weekend at the beach and are still a bit nervous about our exposure, as very few people were masked. We made a point of avoiding crowded restaurants (and they were JAMMED). Wherever you go. be flexible and do your best to avoid crowds - and even if nobody else is masked, you can reduce your risk a bit by wearing one yourself.

You might want to check out You can game out lots of different scenarios there and get a feel for the relative risks involved and how that factors into an overall risk budget.

Thanks for the link, that’s exactly the kind of tool I was hoping for.

As it happens, I just got back from my road trip. I only ate one of my meals inside a restaurant, and I went there when they opened at 6AM and the only other customers were four retired guys at a table thirty feet away. Kept my mask on until the food showed up. The rest of my meals were at restaurants where I could eat outside at tables well removed from each other. At the hotels, I kept my mask on as I moved to/from my room.

I did visit a county with “high” community transmission status, and was disappointed to see how few people bothered to wear masks (even though this was not in the deep south).

Your link would have been more helpful a couple of days sooner, but it’s still been helpful for validating my “gut feel” from before the trip.

Well, that’s probably why they have a high transmission rate…