life Travel

More COVID-19 and how it hurts my planning brain

March 11, 2020

The uncertainty. The waffling. The unclear instructions. The constant sweeping announcements: This is closed! This is cancelled! Should we cancel this? This is still business as usual. Oh wait, cancelled.

On the spectrum from “I like to fly by the seat of my pants!” to “I like to know what I’m eating for lunch 3 weeks from now”, you all know where I tend to fall. And right now, the situation is hitting my planning instincts. Hard.

I feel sad, you guys. Sad and disappointed and sort of lost. I had been looking forward to a year filled with big events and travel. I may not have realized it, but a lot of that anticipation must contribute to my daily sense of well-being. A cheerful sense that I am working towards things. And now, with those opportunities removed or in jeopardy, everything feels flat. And I am sad. Distracted, too. It has been hard to focus at work and at home.

Obviously I am NOT the only one going through this. And also obviously, I recognize that my sadness is not important in the grand scheme of things. Some people are getting very sick from COVID-19, some people are at high risk themselves or have high risk individuals in their immediate families.

Others may find themselves financially at risk. My sister, for example, is a small business owner. Will people stop going to her store because they are stuck at home (she does have online ordering, and I was telling her yesterday that she should start a ‘virtual’ knit group so that people can feel like they are doing something social even if stuck at home)? But still, will her customers buy less because they are feeling less financially secure? Other industries will be impacted more directly. I anticipate that our hospital’s finances (and general operation) are going to be stretched and things will get more stressful.

I am not posting to declare “poor me” because actually, I am aware that objectively my situation is quite lucky. My job is not in jeopardy, even if it may start to get more stressful (I am already worried about the residents).

In my current institution, they have now banned travel to any meetings until further notice, so I have cancelled upcoming trips to San Diego and Fort Worth. However, we are still seeing patients at full force. My personal opinion is that we should start moving to a telemedicine model because it feels odd to be seeing multiple patients and families each day without any protective equipment. We are “screening for high risk” patients (ie recent travel to heavily impacted countries), but now that there is community spread . . . I’m just not sure that this is all that effective.

Case in point, G had a 103.6F fever last night. She has a URI. Our nanny also has it. Josh had it the week prior (no fever, mild cough). In fact, I am the only one who has not had this illness (yet). It’s probably not COVID-19. But there is no testing being done for mild cases, and there are no guidelines for me to stay home just because I happen to have a sick child (though we are supposed to stay home if we ourselves become sick, and I obviously would follow those). So . . .

I don’t know. I don’t know if we should go to NC (and perhaps notably, Duke just cancelled in person classes and the state has now declared emergency). I don’t know if I should go to Mean Girls this weekend at a large performance center. I don’t know when the decision to travel will feel uncomplicated again.

I know emotions are on high with this particular topic. I am probably going to get comments on this post that say “stop spreading panic!” and others that say “how could you possibly even consider traveling with your family and contributing to the continued spread, how selfish”. But I’m going to post it anyway. And I leave the question open: would YOU fly to NC in 1.5 weeks? (Josh suggested I ask the blog; the Instagram results thus far are posted above).

(PS: I don’t think driving to NC is a good option. It’s 12 hours and just sounds like torture. If the choice is drive vs stay home, I’d prefer just staying home.)

(PPS: Also, could the time change have come at a worse moment!? This is NOT when we all need to be extra tired and cranky and off!)

(PPPS: LL is in Curacao right now. And I am SO JEALOUS.)


  • Reply Sarah March 11, 2020 at 6:24 am

    Ugh. This week began with the time change, now it’s a full moon, and it ends with Friday the 13th. I don’t have any additional advice to offer, but solidarity.
    Also, reading Celine right now, which is delightful and a great distraction before bed. Thanks for the recommendation!

  • Reply Joy March 11, 2020 at 6:27 am

    If it were me by myself, I would probably go, but i don’t think I’d travel with children right now. It’s the uncertainty of what could happen or being stuck away from home with small children that would keep me home. However, I’m an intovert homebody so your mileage may vary.

    It’s hard, isn’t it? I’m in a blessed place–not going to lose my job and paid sick leave if I get sick–but my dad and stepmother live in Florida and if he gets sick, I’m 15 hours away. My in-laws are elderly and at risk. They’re in town and my husband cares for them part of every day. What happens to them if we get quarantined? So much uncertainty!

    I believe that God has it under control, but I’m not privy to His future plans so am wallowing in the what ifs, too. I’m sure you will make the right choice for your family. If you do have to cancel, maybe think of fun in town things to do to help with the disappointment for you and the kids.

  • Reply Beth March 11, 2020 at 6:44 am

    Please cancel your trip. This isn’t just about you. It’s about protecting those you come in contact with and who are at risk. Yes it sucks. Yes It’s an inconvenience. But are you not reading the recommendations from the experts? The window for slowing down the spread is closing and they are asking everyone to do their part to help slow it down so as not to overwhelm the healthcare system. Heed their advice! I live in Europe, and half of my family lives in northern Italy. Their lives have been turned upside down, they have been confined to their homes, my in-laws have lost friends, and their economy may never recover. I think we can all make small sacrifices now to prevent this from happening in our own countries! And i say this with sympathy for how much this sucks, and I feel for you! The other half of my family lives in the US and we had to cancel a trip scheduled for this week and don’t know when we will get to travel to see them again, same for my husband’s family in Italy. We have had to cancel birthday parties, restaurants are empty here, we are all working from home. It’s all hard but all necessary.

    • Reply Lucy March 11, 2020 at 7:53 am

      Hi Beth – I know your comment is well intentioned, but the U.S. already has the virus. It’s just that we’re not testing enough to show how widespread it is. Accusing Sarah of “not doing her part” is unnecessary- many many U.S. companies still have workers flying all over, one woman’s vacation plans mean nothing. Epidemiologists say that we are not capable of containing the virus here through travel restrictions, it is too late.

      • Reply Beth March 11, 2020 at 8:14 am

        yes, containing the virus is too late, but slowing down the spread is not. My comment wasn’t intended to be accusing or mean spirited towards Sarah, and apologies that if cane across that way. Everyone has to make decision for themselves. It’s just that we are about 3 weeks ahead of the US and the rate at which things get out of control is…fast. What is happening in Italy is very bad. I pray that the US is somehow spared the worst of it, but no one really knows so I do think that non-essential travel is just that: non-essential (not talking about work trips) so it just seems wise to hunker down for a bit. Just my opinion! Whatever decisions people make, I do hope everyone stays healthy!

        • Reply Anu March 11, 2020 at 4:18 pm

          Yes, even if the boat has already sailed with respect to keeping the virus from getting to the US, the point is to slow the spread within the US in order to give our healthcare system time to cope. We really don’t want to be in the situation Italy is in and the only way to do that is through social distancing and preventing getting into contact with large groups of people. Not intended as shaming, I am making similar decisions myself and might do a few risky things myself (e.g. I desperately want a date and am still thinking of going to a restaurant some time this week with my husband).

  • Reply Kat March 11, 2020 at 7:24 am

    Hey. I was the commenter concerned about the doctor/panic a few days ago. I hugely appreciate how you’ve covered this topic the last few days – with disclaimers, talking about personal impact, etc. Thank you!

  • Reply Meg March 11, 2020 at 7:39 am

    We are cancelling a trip to see my parents in FL (we are in MI) in 2 weeks. My kids (2, 5, 7) are too young to be appropriately hygienic and I don’t want to bring anything to my parents and aunt (who I don’t think could survive the illness). I have been anxious over the decision but it will only get worse between now and then and feel that cancelling will be a relief. It’s so difficult to decide!

  • Reply Jen March 11, 2020 at 7:49 am

    Are you visiting someone who is immune compromised? If not, go. Thousands of planes are flying around the country every day. It’s EVERYWHERE here and the only reason that isn’t more apparent is our incompetent presidential administration. You’re not selfishly spreading the disease around and anyone saying that you are lacks an understanding of basic epidemiology. You’re much more likely to get it in the hospital and the kids are much more likely to be exposed to it at school.

  • Reply H.C. March 11, 2020 at 7:57 am

    Personally I would cancel – let’s all do what we can to flatten the curve. Not about panic, but about reducing risk for everyone (especially our most vulnerable). If you look at the rise of cases in Japan (where they shut down early) vs many other countries, the difference is drastic.

  • Reply acdalal March 11, 2020 at 8:17 am

    I had a really interesting conversation with my 7th grader this morning on this very topic. It’s show weekend for her school, and my MIL is supposed to fly in for the weekend to see her perform and hang out with us. We talked about community transmission, protecting others whose immune systems can’t help them fight off novel viruses or even less novel viruses, personal responsibility, and the ethics of moving school online when not everyone has Internet access at home. Pretty heavy stuff for an early morning! 😀 All that to say: It’s complicated. We’re all flying by the seat of our pants here, not sure what to do. I’m a professor and it’s unclear what’s going to happen at my institution after spring break, but they did just cancel all college-sponsored travel and indicated that people will likely need to self-quarantine for 14 days if they choose to travel, and we are likely to move online for at least the first couple of weeks of spring term. I think at this point, anything we can do to lessen the potential impacts of an outbreak is a good idea. Limiting travel, limiting time spent in crowds, washing hands often, looking in on neighbors. And extending each other some grace seems like a really good idea, too. Good luck with whatever you decide — it’s not easy!

  • Reply Sarah March 11, 2020 at 8:22 am

    I am a NP in IM. I had a national conference next week and was notified last night it was cancelled. I am disappointed but not surprised. Now i am obsessing about my Hawaii trip in June as well as how to handle if school closes for weeks as I obviously will still be working.
    As far as your trip, it is a personal decision as far as risks but it does seem to be rapidly increasing and you could end up trapped somewhere for an extended time..unable to get home in the time frame you planned.
    I agree w the comments about flattening the curve as well,. As health care professionals we should try to encourage others to socially distance if possible. Not to stop it but to slow the spread out over time so our health care systems are not overwhelmed. My employer assures me we have plenty of PPE, but I am seeing 20 + sick patients a day on the assumption they dont have Covid. My state has only tested less than 50 people so far.

  • Reply Jennifer March 11, 2020 at 8:29 am

    I am totally with you about the uncertainty being very anxiety provoking! And the feeling that maybe it’s a bit selfish to be concerned about my own financial situation when other people are actually sick and dying. But I work in a job that will be impacted if large scale gatherings are curtailed and I cannot work remotely. Already my freelancer husband is having jobs cancel on him. We are in the NY area, which is a “hot zone” so things are getting real here. We will ultimately be just fine and have the savings and family support to get through this, but it’s still very unsettling. I think we all just need to be kind to each other and recognize that no one knows what is going to happen and this is just so bizarre.

  • Reply Omdg March 11, 2020 at 8:51 am

    I’d cancel. Sick or not, I wouldn’t want to be quarantined away from my family. I don’t think that is terribly far fetched.

  • Reply gwinne March 11, 2020 at 8:57 am

    The way I”m thinking of this is sort of like individual carbon footprint and climate change….one person’s choice doesn’t really matter. But collectively OUR choices do matter. Same with vaccination. Same with most things.

    I stayed home from a should-have-been-cancelled-but-wasn’t conference last week for this reason. My university has shut down ALL domestic travel and we’re in a state that until last night had no confirmed cases.

  • Reply Sara B. March 11, 2020 at 9:18 am

    I just came back from a medical conference – I think it would have been cancelled in another 2 weeks. Many of the presenters (including the keynote speaker) were prohibited from traveling by their institutions and sessions were cancelled. I was informed by my institution that we do not have small N-95 masks at this time. (I’m ER, so this no small matter.) I’m most nervous about the impact on our healthcare system and my colleagues – I think we’re frustrated with how our state has handled testing (as minimal as possible because we haven’t had tests) and surveillance (not really doing any). I’m not naturally a worrier and I’m probably only at a 5 personally but this is going to be so long and crazy.

  • Reply Elisabeth March 11, 2020 at 9:26 am

    I don’t think this is a moral issue – there is no clear “right” or “wrong.”

    I guess, given your personality, though I’d suggest asking the question: “How will I feel if we travel and discover one of our children/one of the people we visit comes down with COVID-19?” If that question doesn’t fill you with pre-emptive guilt or fear, then go! If just asking the question is difficult…then stay home.

    Ultimately, I feel like the short-term decision to stay home won’t be regretted long-term (there will be other chances to travel), but the decision to go seems to carry more room for later regret?

    Hope everyone stays healthy.

    I live in Eastern Canada and we don’t have any cases yet, but my husband is at a huge conference in Las Vegas this week…I suspect it will be his last travel outside Canada for a while.

  • Reply Jeanna March 11, 2020 at 9:32 am

    I voted “yes” yesterday but would maybe switch my vote today. Reading more about “flattening the curve” and the exponential growth in other countries has me reconsidering (side note…I need to stop reading Coronavirus news!). Although I sort of feel like the biggest impact is from limiting large-scale events, not necessarily family visits. Then again, I always get a little sick after any kind of airline travel. Tough decision…Best of luck to you!

  • Reply Gillian March 11, 2020 at 10:30 am

    Okay, I have been considering whether to comment, but here goes. I am going to be the dissenting voice here. I live immediately adjacent to the “containment zone” in Westchester NY and I am a physician in NYC. I feel like a lone voice calling for reason amidst a lot of panic. The measures I am seeing people take here on the ground are not likely to be effective and I struggle to see the logic in them.

    The containment area near me imposed by the state is just closing houses of worship, schools and community centers within 1 mile of the affected synagogue where the patient initially identified worshiped. Grocery stores etc are open and there is no restriction of movement in or out of the zone. Many of my friends whose kids do not have school are still socializing with their school friends. People in the zone are taking public transit to work and maybe hitting a Broadway show afterward.

    Outside this zone, my daughter’s music school announced yesterday at 2p.m. that they will be closed today “out of an abundance of caution” but remained open yesterday afternoon and will likely reopen tomorrow. My son’s nursery school is opened but they cancelled PJ night this evening for the same kids in the same space.

    I truly feel that all of these efforts (from the NY state government on down to our nursery school) are motivated by a desire to “do something” but without much real thought as to how effective they will be or how much panic they induce or how disruptive they are.

    While, I have been advising my elderly and/or at risk patients to be cautious, I think given how widespread this already is there is truly little else that will be helpful. If I get sick, I will stay home from work. If my kids get sick, they will stay home from school. I am abiding by my institution’s travel restrictions because I understand that an entire division of quarantined physicians is not a safe situation for the hospital.

    Otherwise, I am doing the things I know make a difference–I am washing my hands and stethoscope before and after every patient encounter. But I am going to book club tonight. I am taking my kids to their scheduled activities. I am riding the train and subway to work. I am attending my community’s library fundraiser on Saturday evening. Mostly, I am hoping that cold and flu season will come to an lose and take this virus with it.

    • Reply Kaye March 11, 2020 at 10:51 am


      Totally agree with you.

    • Reply Erica March 11, 2020 at 12:03 pm

      Totally agree about the measures I’m seeing in NYC. Every couple hours I get another email talking about how something else is canceled or modified due to an “overabundance of caution” (this is always the phrase they use). I’m not sure an *over*abundance is something to brag about; everything has a cost, and if this virus is going to be with us for the next couple months – or longer – the (economic and personal) costs of nobody going anywhere are going to be substantial. I would rather see serious consideration given to protecting the most vulnerable than blanket proclamations that don’t accomplish very much.

    • Reply Ali March 11, 2020 at 2:02 pm

      So agree with this. I think unless your family makes the decision to quarantine yourselves, you’ll already be interacting with others and possibly contracting/spreading the virus. I’m not sure that one type or contact is worse than any other type, especially for kids who pick up germs everywhere. My oldest is out of school right now (there are 7 cases in my state, none close to us) but we are still living life. I think until we get to the point we all have to quarantine, it’s hard to justify not making one decision vs another. (I.e., do you travel with your kids or stay in town but go to public spaces?)

  • Reply Delia March 11, 2020 at 10:36 am

    I would defer decidng until just a few days before the actual trip. things could change between now and then, which could make the decision making a lot easier. That’s what we are doing with some of our upcoming trips.

  • Reply Marcia (OrganisingQueen) March 11, 2020 at 10:39 am

    We were going to travel to the US from South Africa in April, and we have cancelled our trip. We’re also not travelling locally until this is over, or contained.

    I’m actually in another city for work travel and things are definitely different – the airport staff are all wearing masks now, etc.

    I feel confident we won’t die from the virus, but I’m not prepared to be quarantined from my kids, or to pay a fortune for travel and not be able to do anything while in another city/ country.

    I voted no on insta 🙂

  • Reply Jamie March 11, 2020 at 10:53 am

    For what it’s worth I saw Mean Girls at Broward Center for Performing Arts last weekend, they have increased hand sanitizer stands and I was cognizant to use it and wash my hands before and after each time I went to my seat. It was a great show, the cast is incredibly talented and the set is really cool. I think locally we kind of have to continue to live life and try not to let the stress of the uncertainty affect us. I feel you on the uncertainty of traveling via plane though, I have a girl’s trip scheduled in Arizona late April and I can’t bring myself quite yet to cancel it.

  • Reply jjiraffe March 11, 2020 at 11:03 am

    People have smart advice here, and I wouldn’t go for the same reasons. We all need to flatten the curve, and you don’t want to be stuck elsewhere for a long period of time (very real possibility). I just wanted to say I appreciate you addressing this topic, and earlier than many others. I’ve had to track COVID-19 closely for work since late January so it’s a balance once you KNOW how disruptive this will be but also not wanting to panic. Since you are a planner (as I am), maybe plan for what you can: make sure you have 2 weeks of food and medication on hand, advocate for telemedicine services and control what you can control. And, enjoy as much as you can the moments we have now, while we’re not significantly disrupted.

  • Reply Nikki March 11, 2020 at 11:49 am

    It’s so hard – there are so many variables! I think there is no right or wrong answer based on the information available right now. You could defer deciding until early next week when we may have more info on how big or small this may end up being, but I know that’s hard on your planning soul! I think, I would consider keeping the trip if it was just me, but with my 2 & 4 year old, I think I would rather keep them closer to home versus risking major travel disruptions or dealing with suddenly canceled flights/etc. I’m sure they would remember it as a grand adventure, but not sure I would 🙂

  • Reply Lisa of Lisa's Yarns March 11, 2020 at 12:00 pm

    I think it’s wise to wait to decide until you are closer to the trip, but if I had to decide today, I’d stay home… there are just too many unknowns and like another commenter said, too much opportunity for guilt/regret. But it’s hard to say for certain what you should do and that’s obviously a decision only you can make! I would feel differently if it was just me/my husband traveling. Traveling with kids is harder because they just don’t understand personal hygiene, especially G. Our son is always putting his hands in his mouth so I feel like it’d be impossible to travel with him right now!

  • Reply Holly March 11, 2020 at 12:11 pm

    I in general have been very much on the “we are making this into way too big a thing” side of the panic. HOWEVER. I’ve read a few (well-researched/sourced) articles on the role of “social distancing” in containing epidemics historically and generally being helpful to “flatten the curve” over the last couple of days. So do I think you or your family are immediately at risk if you choose to travel, or somehow bad parents or completely irresponsible citizens? No. But if it is a non-urgent trip, to answer your specific question, no, I would not do it right now. Public health is a public responsibility, and if it does not cause too much personal hardship, I think it is a reasonable burden to cancel the trip.

  • Reply Joan March 11, 2020 at 12:40 pm

    I’m going to my daughter about your sister’s store. My daughter lives in the triangle. She works part time at a high end fabric store and also loves to knit. She’s in at least one knitting group.

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger March 11, 2020 at 12:42 pm

      She would probably love the store then 🙂

  • Reply Caitlin March 11, 2020 at 1:28 pm

    My husband and I canceled our upcoming spring-break trip to FL with our daughters (4 and 1). While I do think Covid-19 is here with greater prevalence than testing levels show, efforts to flatten the curve seem important. For us, that means saying no to non-essential travel and group events (birthday parties, St. Patrick’s Day parades, and such), and limiting our time in public spaces. That said, my daughters are still attending pre-K/daycare as of today, though we are re-evaluating daily. Likewise, my husband and I, who are both attorneys in private practice, can do much of our work remotely and may switch to doing so for a while.

    These decisions are not easy, so best of luck to you!

  • Reply RKK March 11, 2020 at 4:00 pm

    Just posting to say how much I appreciate your real thoughts on the situation. It’s so refreshing to her someone not fear-mongering or obliviously promoting their new venture, but sharing their very real thoughts and anxieties (which mirror mine). I am also not an anxious person by nature by I think we are all feeling this – your sentence about hwo you didn’t realize how much anticipation contributed to your daily well being RANG SO TRUE and helped me identify it within myself. So thank you for sharing.

  • Reply Rinna March 11, 2020 at 4:13 pm

    You’ve probably already seen this, but just in case you haven’t:

    I think it’s scary and illuminating. I would cancel the trip and more. I actually think the US and Canada need to preemptively practice significant social distancing to stop the spread (closing schools, work from home, shift work etc). As a business person and a working mother, believe me that I do not for one second underestimate the economic and other impacts of doing so. But read a little about what happened to the HC system in Italy when they didn’t take things seriously. The stories of doctors and nurses not even trying to help certain patients because they had to focus limited resources on saving those that were more likely to survive. It’s hear-breaking and predictable. We’ve seen it happen in other countries, and I for one think that if we do not learn for the lessons of China, Italy, Iran, South Korea, we have blood on our hands if people die needlessly. So yah, I guess you can say my vote will be to stay home 🙂 (Sorry about the intensity of this message)

  • Reply Dr Eva Lantsoght (@evalantsoght) March 11, 2020 at 4:14 pm

    I recognize the anxiety / checking news / worrying that this involves. I was supposed to travel internationally for work at the end of the month, but just found out the event is canceled. While I looked forward to some me-time in the evenings in the hotel, I’m actually relieved there is a definite decision.
    So maybe you can do a thought experiment: would you feel relieved if you decide to cancel? In that case, I’d cancel and stop worrying about it.

  • Reply Robert March 11, 2020 at 9:15 pm

    As a physician seeing patients in a primary care setting, I certainly understand your sentiments. I was just talking with my wife and literally started the same way: “I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me. However…” as you pointed out, the lack of testing and reliable info has been difficult for me/us and I feel incredibly exposed. I see 15-20 patients per day, many of whom have traveled internationally but not the “hot zone” countries. As happens this time of year, people get upper respiratory infections and I was seeing probably 8-10 patients/day with symptoms that *could* be Covid, though unlikely. I am located in the Triangle area and have been telling my patients to not travel if at all possible. This is surely overkill but the risk is just not worth it unless really essential travel. My thoughts, since you asked 🙂 are to either drive or don’t come. It sucks but for me the peace of mind is worth it. Best of luck and stay safe! Thanks for sharing your story.

  • Reply Kersti March 11, 2020 at 9:50 pm

    I was just talking to my husband (we are both introverts) about how it’s nice that things are being cancelled and we get to work from home! Of course the circumstances causing the cancellations are not good, but I am enjoying and making the most of the increased alone time. Funny how different we all are. Maybe you can plan some fun things at home with friends and family?

  • Reply LL March 12, 2020 at 9:02 pm

    I sympathize with all of this. I actually just dashed off a quick post of random “traveling during COVID-19” thoughts. We’d already traveled (as I note, if our trip had been in the future and not starting 6 days ago, I think we would have made a different decision, but all you have is in the information available to you at the time), but I completely concur and sympathize with everything you wrote and basically all of the commenters. It’s hard, and the desire/NEED to plan and the difficulty of not being able to is very real. We’re flying back Monday (can’t bump up our flight) and, assuming we can still enter the country, it’s going to be a totally different environment from when we left just a few days ago.

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger March 13, 2020 at 7:02 pm

      I totally understand how you made the decision you did, when you did! I hope you had a great trip even with the trepidations. It SUCKS that we could have met TWICE (in Miami and at my Ft Worth conference) if it weren’t for this virus! Someday.

  • Reply Laura Harper March 15, 2020 at 10:13 pm

    Just ordered from your sister’s store! How lovely!

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger March 16, 2020 at 5:20 am

      that’s amazing! i’ll tell her!!

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