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Masks on the beach: Take a break — without endangering yourself or others

If you’re an in-state student like me, you were cooped up in Ohio last summer. I went weeks without leaving the house except to get groceries, occasionally stand six feet apart from friends, or drive around alone aimlessly in my car with my music blasting on roads lined with soybean and cornfields.

Then I would hop onto Instagram and see someone on some sandy beach. I assumed if someone was traveling, it meant they were taking risks that could expose them to COVID-19 without a thought about other people.

But in December, I hopped on a plane. I was terrified. It was horrible, packed with people. I didn’t take off my mask once.

Forty minutes after we landed, I was in a pool with an icy drink in my hand. And I finally understood. It is possible to vacation responsibly — as long as you don’t make the same mistakes I did (Read: Don’t fly with Spirit Airlines).

Months before my parents would strong-arm me into boarding a plane, I unfollowed someone after they posted a picture of a swaying palm tree from the perch of a bar. How could they be out and about while the sick pack hospitals, and when people who are high-risk can hardly leave their homes and the virus disproportionately affects people of color and those who can’t afford to take time off from work to social distance?

Having the means to go on vacation is a privilege even without a pandemic. As is being able to afford time off work, or even work from home without an end date in sight.

Then my parents announced that 1) my great grandpa had died, probably alone, in the hospital, and 2) they were moving to Florida.

In a pandemic?

My dad foresaw that the pandemic would be here for the long haul and wanted to work remotely with sunshine visible through his window. They sold the house within the month and whatever they couldn’t fit into a U-Haul, then headed to Florida a week after I left for college.

They Facetimed me throughout fall semester asking me when I would visit. Each time, their tans deepened, and each time, I said no as Ohio temperatures steadily dropped.

I finally caved at the semester’s end. It was a Spirit Airlines plane because my miles from a canceled spring break trip would expire if I didn’t use them in the next few months. I didn’t go to the restroom or take off my mask, or even accept water and snacks from flight attendants.

And then: palm trees. Near-80 degree weather. I changed into a swimsuit and stepped into my grandparents’ pool.

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Now, not everyone has the ability to access a private pool with icy drinks all for free. That is not the point. But it’s a lot easier to socially distance when it’s warm, especially from people who don’t believe that COVID-19 is real or refuse to wear masks. So if you have the means and the time and the health and the privilege to go somewhere warm and travel safely, stop wringing your hands in the cold like I did all of last semester and go.

This doesn’t mean to go out to a packed bar or house full of people, or skip school for a Cancún spring break even though it’s been replaced with mental health days.

However, with classes increasing face-to-face time, I am loath to recommend any of these travel tips unless you minimize your time on campus with other people as much as possible. Miami students are a cesspool, and the COVID-19 numbers are going to go up as we come back to campus.

For you, a vacation right now might be as simple as going on a hike or a walk in your nearest woods when you have a free moment. Or booking the cheapest Airbnb you can find with self check-in, where you don’t even have to meet face-to-face with your host. There are even “medical grade” Airbnb listings that specifically target nurses and other healthcare travelers, who serve as backup for burnt-out staff in hospitals.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) also says you should consider if hospitals near your home or your travel destination are at capacity. If so, leave the Airbnbs in that area for healthcare workers and go somewhere else.

You also need to prepare yourself for the worst outcome. Bring hand sanitizer, alcohol wipes, plenty of masks and your common sense. Get tested. Get the vaccine if you can.

Get away to an Airbnb with a full kitchen, and your host will be able to point you to the nearest grocery store. If you’re afraid to cook for yourself, order delivery.

Ask social distancing family members or friends who are not at risk if they’re comfortable with you crashing at their place.

If you’re lucky enough to find yourself near a coast, find a beach that’s not constantly busting with people. If you can’t find one, take a walk in the mornings when beaches are vacant.

Drive, if you can, to wherever you’re going. Avoid planes, and if you find yourself strapped into spending miles before they expire like me, don’t take off your mask while on the plane and don’t go to the restroom.

And if you love your grandparents, don’t fly on Spirit Airlines.