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Safe travels: Billings couple navigates COVID challenges during vacation

Posted at 3:56 PM, Feb 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-23 20:46:02-05

Traditional spring break is just around the corner, and you or someone you know may be making plans to get away.

But right now, in the midst of a pandemic, people are not likely to advertise their plane ticket purchase.

But we know families are traveling, so why not do it as safely as possible, and know what’s in store and what’s at stake?

It took Billings couple Rita Bishop and her husband Dean three tries to reach their favorite destination.

“We tried to go last August, but the borders to Belize hadn’t opened up yet. The second time was in November. We tried to come down and my husband ended up getting COVID so we had to cancel that trip, so we considered this, hopefully be in third time's the charm,” said Rita over a Zoom call a few days in.

And yes, it was. The Bishops left below zero temperatures in Montana and have been donning shorts and sunblock ever since.

“It's awesome. It's been super nice since we've been down here. A little windy but hey, I will take 80 degrees any day over zero,” said Rita.

The Bishops are not your average travelers. Rita works at Billings Clinic, so she’s been vaccinated, and as she mentioned, her husband has already recovered from Covid-19. They also own the condo they’re staying in.

But despite this, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends not traveling right now.

“If people make a different choice, they need to understand the risks that they're taking,” said Nancy Iverson, the director of patient safety and infection control at the clinic. “They need to be prepared (for) what they would do if one of their family members or they get sick.”

Iverson said when people have asked her opinion, she recommends delaying travel, but she also understands the lure.

She said children are getting married and grandchildren are being born, but “you just need to understand your risk and how to minimize and reduce your risk.”

The Bishops took the extra steps to prepare before takeoff.

“We had to go get tested because we had to have a negative COVID test within 72 hours of entering the border,” she said. The two of them will also need to test negative again before they enter the U.S. this week.

The Bishops also suggest doing your due diligence well in advance. They downloaded a mandated app before leaving Montana and answered a slew of questions to make sure they would be allowed to enter the country. Each day, they need to check in on that app to let the country know how they are feeling.

They also studied the do’s and don’ts of their destination and learned Belize is strict on its rules and regulations.

Since landing, they’ve learned of different groups of travelers fined for not wearing masks.

“It's about 500 bucks that they're fined,” said Rita. “So it's very much enforced down here. Just know the rules and be smart.”

Rita and Dean said they each had their own row on the plane from Billings to Denver, but that’s not always the case.

Iverson suggests you wipe all the surfaces that you would touch, do not take your mask off, and wear approved eyewear.

“Something that has an EPA registration number on it. Because then you want to make sure it has a claim for emerging pathogens, and it will kill the SARS Covid virus,” she said.

She says approved eyewear protects your mucus membranes. It gives you sight coverage and covers above your eyebrows and is marked with a Z87.

Before you fly anywhere, besides approved eyewear, Iverson suggests you study the CDC guidelines, learn how to wash your hands correctly, do not touch your face, have disinfectant wipes and extra hand sanitizer, at least 60% alcohol within reach, and pack extra masks and learn how to properly fit them.

Iverson also says keep a true six-foot distance, and keep your interactions brief with anyone outside your household, “You have to assume everyone around you is positive.”

So as the Bishops soak in the sun, they know they are not completely in the clear. They do need to test negative to enter back into the U.S., but that doesn’t seem to be the biggest concern for Rita today.

“If for some reason, we end up testing positive… we'll be stuck down there and quarantining for an additional two weeks, which would not be horrible, but it would put a little bit of a burden on work," she said.