The Novel Coronavirus: How Seniors Can Stay Safe & Healthy While Traveling Abroad

The Novel Coronavirus: How Seniors Can Stay Safe & Healthy While Traveling Abroad

The Novel Coronavirus: How Seniors Can Stay Safe & Healthy While Traveling Abroad

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The slower pace of life after retirement makes your golden years the perfect time to travel abroad and collect all of the amazing memories and experience that you were always too busy for when you worked full-time. However, in light of the recent novel coronavirus outbreak, older travelers must take caution and be doubly aware of their needs and limitations. 

Below, we share tips for staying safe and healthy while traveling abroad.

Stay informed.

If you’re going abroad in the coming weeks, protect yourself by staying current on world health news. 

As of February 29, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a set of travel recommendations based on the novel coronavirus or COVID-19 outbreak. Currently, the WHO advises against travel and trade restrictions to countries experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks. However, they encourage travelers who are sick to delay or avoid travel to affected areas, particularly for older travelers and travelers with underlying health conditions. 

The WHO also recommends following these hygiene tips, whether you’re traveling or plan on staying home:  

  • Wash your hands frequently, for at least 20 seconds. Also be sure to follow proper hand washing techniques
  • Cough and sneeze into your elbow or a paper tissue — rather than your hand — to prevent the spread of germs. 
  • Avoid touching your mouth and nose. 
  • While there is no evidence that wearing a medical mask protects non-sick persons, travellers who choose to wear them should follow proper mask techniques

Finally, the WHO advises travellers returning from affected areas to self-monitor for symptoms for 14 days and follow your country’s protocols.   

Consult your doctor before traveling.

This tip applies any time you travel abroad — not just during the COVID-19 outbreak. It is also especially true if you suffer from a chronic condition that might impair your mobility or requires daily medication management. Before booking your trip, and again just before you depart, consider scheduling a routine physical with your primary care doctor. 

Make sure that you get any required and/or recommended vaccinations before you leave. Many countries require you to show proof (known as a “Yellow Card”) at entry of your vaccinations against certain endemic diseases. Or, if you are traveling to an area in which exotic diseases not common to the US are known to be present in the local environment (say, malaria or yellow fever in tropical nations), your doctor may strongly recommend that you receive preventative vaccinations in advance of your trip. 

You can find information about disease conditions, food safety concerns in your destination country and vaccination requirements on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website, or by calling 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636).

Plan out how you will accommodate health concerns.

Make sure that you take enough of your medical supplies with you to last your entire trip. Also consider packing extra supplies in case your travel plans become delayed due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Bring a letter from your doctor listing your medications, reasons for taking them, dosages, your chronic medical conditions and your allergies — you shouldn’t need it translated into your destination country’s language (English is widely used as an international language and translators are usually easy for healthcare workers abroad to find).

Place a climate-appropriate change of clothes, your daily necessities and several days to a week’s worth of your routine medications in your carry-on luggage so that you will have them in the event you and your baggage become separated en route. 

Some careful forethought can help you to avoid an unnecessary medical emergency.

If you will be taking a long flight to get where you’re going, be mindful of the symptoms of a pulmonary embolism (blood clot in the lungs), for which people who take long, enclosed trips or high-altitude flights are more at risk: 

  • Shortness of breath 
  • Swelling of one leg relative to the other
  • Chest pain
  • Sudden weakness
  • Profuse sweating
  • Fainting
  • Coughing up pink, foamy blood

Be aware that Medicare does not cover medical expenses incurred overseas — not even emergencies on cruises in international waters.

For seniors who rely on Medicare as their primary form of health insurance, this can come as something of a shock. Similarly, most private health insurers will cover reasonable emergency medical expenses incurred abroad (up to a set amount), but they often do not cover medical evacuations back to the United States.

So say, for instance, you are on a cruise to the Gulf of Mexico. In international waters, you have a heart attack and are evacuated to the nearest hospital — in Belize. Although your private health plan may cover part of your emergency evaluation and stabilization treatment there, it will likely not cover an expensive air ambulance flight back to Houston or Miami for further workup.

Never fear, though — many insurance providers, including the AARP, offer short-term overseas health plans. Talk to your insurance agent and be sure you have the coverage you need.

Once you reach your destination country, register with the US embassy or consulate there.

If an emergency were to occur, it’s a good idea to have registered your movements beforehand with the US State Department so that they know who to contact in the event of an international or personal emergency. The State Department’s Smart Traveller Enrollment Program (STEP) is a fast, easy way to make sure you are on the radar if something unfortunate were to happen.

An Update on the Novel Coronavirus from ERS

While these tips can help you stay safe and healthy while traveling abroad, you might be wondering what Episcopal Retirement Services is doing to protect our residents and prepare for a novel coronavirus outbreak. 

ERS takes this matter very seriously and currently have mitigation strategies to minimize disease spread and are in the process of preparing for cases of COVID-19 in Ohio. As part of our preparedness efforts, we were ordering additional supplies and re-training our staff on our procedure for communicable diseases. Additionally, we are working with our staff to increase our cleaning schedule of surface areas and emphasize hand hygiene. As of March 9th, we have made the difficult decision to restrict visitation to our communities. All non-essential staff and visitors will be restricted from visiting Deupree House effective immediately.

Thank you for your continued support. Our residents' health is our top priority. We invite you to visit our website to learn more about these efforts and to access helpful resources to keep you and your loved ones safe. If you have any questions, please contact us


Editor's Note: This blog was originally published on July 26, 2014. It was updated and re-published on March 11, 2020 to provide information regarding the novel coronavirus outbreak.


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Kristin Davenport

Kristin Davenport

Kristin Davenport is the Director of Communications for Episcopal Retirement Services (ERS). Kristin leads ERS’s efforts to share stories that delight and inspire through social media, online content, annual reports, magazines, newsletters, public re... Read More >

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