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Coronavirus and spring break: What’s a Vancouver family to do?

Travel gets tricky for Grant Lawrence and his crew amid current health crisis
May the hand sanitizer be with you, says Grant Lawrence, as he embarks on a trip to Disneyland’s Sta
May the hand sanitizer be with you, says Grant Lawrence, as he embarks on a trip to Disneyland’s Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge during spring break. Photo iStock


That’s what I shouted at my four-year-old daughter when I caught her casually caressing the bench in my son’s hockey locker room with her tongue. My immediate thought was, “What if she does that on the plane?”

If, like me, you’re planning on travelling with your family during spring break, maybe you’ve had similar thoughts. Hopefully your kid isn’t as tongue-curious as mine, but in light of the global health emergency triggered by the coronavirus, you’ve probably discussed your travel plans with your partner and maybe your kids.

How could you not?

The Japanese prime minister’s request for a month-long total school closure, impacting millions of children and their families, was a shocking development. It went into effect for most of Japan March 2. Tokyo Disneyland is also closed. As of March 2, there were 233 confirmed coronavirus cases in Japan, a country of 126 million people.

The question the media morbidly loves to pose whenever something like this occurs elsewhere is: Could such measures happen here? Or close to it? Could Disneyland shut down if an outbreak hits South California? My son would kill me if we missed out on the newly opened Star Wars Land, but maybe it’s better to pass on C3PO than pass around COVID-19.

Miss out on Star Wars Land you must not, advises Jenn Franzen, a Vancouver travel agent with 14 years experience, who has navigated her clients through SARS, H1N1 and, now, the coronavirus.

“I have a two and five year old. Would I go to Mexico right now? Yes. Would I go to the U.S.A. right now? Yes. Would I go to China right now? No. The U.S.A., with the current situation? One hundred per cent,” Franzen assured me. “As long as there is not an advisory on the Canadian government travel site, and no one in my family has a compromised immune system, then yes, I would take my family [to Disneyland].”

A recent parenting article in the New York Times agreed, stating that families should feel “very comfortable” traveling to places such as California or Florida during spring break.

“I think travelling in the U.S. is fine right now,” Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, an infectious disease specialist from Stanford University, told the Times in a Feb. 26 story, before adding the caveat, “but the situation is extremely fluid.” The article also recommends that families with spring break travel plans should be “prepared to pivot at a moment’s notice.”

What does that mean? Cancel? Proceed with plans? Or burn rubber backing out of the Disneyland parking lot? I polled both Twitter and a Facebook parenting group I belong to, asking whether anyone is changing their vacation plans due to the virus outbreak.

On Twitter, the results were pretty much split down the middle between “travel as planned” and “stay home.” On the Facebook parenting group, the results were much more divided: 75 per cent of respondents said they would travel during spring break as planned. Only 13 per cent would stay home because of the virus (another 12 per cent responded that they were staying home, but not because of the virus).

Of those polled, one commented they had already postponed a spring break trip to Vietnam in favour of Mexico, while another admitted they had postponed their planned vacation to Italy for a year.

I’ll admit it, the coronavirus scares me. My daughter enjoys licking things in public places for god’s sake. Since coronavirus is spreading around the planet via air travel, logic would suggest planes and airports should be avoided. But air travel is so absolutely entrenched in many of our 21st century lives.

“This is more dangerous that the flu. Very definitely,” Dr. Bruce Aylward, the World Health Organization’s senior adviser to the director general told the CBC on Sunday. Aylward, a Canadian, stressed that the concern over COVID-19 was not fear mongering, and not an overreaction. He also suggested while washing your hands is important, sometimes hand sanitizer is best, especially when your only option is a public washroom, like in an airport or on a plane.

“You go into the bathroom and [you’re] touching… all sorts of things,” said Aylward. “So hand sanitizer in the pocket is often the easiest thing.”

So what happens if you cancel your trip?

“Travel insurance through most providers does not allow refunds on non-refundable holidays unless there is a government-issued travel advisory,” Franzen told me. “So if someone was thinking about cancelling their trip to Mexico or Disneyland, they would likely be out of pocket.”

The coronavirus has already provided plenty of planning headaches for Franzen.

“This past month, I have spent many hours on hold with airlines and hotels, trying to help my clients figure out if they are going to cancel or not,” Franzen said. “Hold times are insanely long with most airlines and hotels because of this.”

As of now, we will cautiously proceed with our spring break plans, meeting up with my wife’s parents in Southern California. But to quote my father-in-law, a retired immunologist from the University of Toronto, “We will continue to monitor the situation closely. Not very satisfying, but these are the tentative times in which we find ourselves.”

Enjoy spring break, and may the hand sanitizer be with you.