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15 Best Travel Essentials to Protect Against COVID-19 in 2021


What should be in your travel safety kit

Mom and daughter sanitize airplane screen for safe travel



Images By Tang Ming Tung/Getty Images


Whether you’re vaccinated or not, driving or flying, remember the basics of COVID travel: Wear the best mask you can (ideally an N95-type mask), making sure it fits snuggly without gaps at the sides (layering two masks can help), and keep your distance from people outside your household as much as possible.

Then, pack a portable COVID-19 safety kit, whether flying or driving.

Proof of vaccination

Again, getting the COVID vaccine is the best thing you can do to stay safe and keep others safe while traveling during the pandemic. Many countries require proof of vaccination before entering their borders, and even if you’re traveling domestically, it’s a good idea to have proof with you just in case a public space or business upon arrival requires it.

If you want to travel with your physical vaccine card, we suggest putting it in a protective vinyl casing. But there are also a handful of apps, such as CommonPass and VeriFLY, that allow you to upload proof of vaccine and even connect PCR test results so you have proof of your low-risk all in one place.

Masks for adults

Masks are required on all airlines, regardless of your vaccination status or where you’re flying. They’re also recommended for any public place while driving, like public restrooms or service stations.

As coronavirus is an airborne virus, wearing a mask is still one of the key ways to reduce spreading or getting COVID, especially in an indoor, crowded place like an airport or airplane, Joyce Sanchez, MD, medical director of the Travel Health Clinic at Froedtert and the Medical College of Wisconsin tells Insider.

Wearing the right mask the right way helps to protect not only the people around you but the wearer too.

Nearly everyone can safely wear a mask, other than those who can’t put on or take off a mask themselves. This includes those with chronic lung and heart problems, Dr. Sanchez says. “Even if it feels harder to breathe while wearing a mask, it doesn’t actually affect how much oxygen your body gets,” she assures.

Why are masks so important? Think of the COVID virus like cigarette smoke spreading indoors — it flows throughout the space (beyond 6 feet from the person who exhaled it and around plexiglass barriers) and can hang in the air for hours, even after the person is no longer in the room.

Considering its spreadability, and given how contagious the Delta variant is, it’s more important than ever to wear a well-fitting mask to both prevent spreading the virus to others and inhaling it yourself.

N95-type masks are best now that they’re no longer in short supply like early in the pandemic, followed by KN95 masks (both technically called respirators rather than masks). Both seal the sides of the face and top of the nose to minimize any gaps where air can leak, and offer additional filtration of air as you breathe, Dr. Sanchez explains.

However, counterfeits are common, so check the CDC’s list of approved masks and suppliers. A quick way to tell is that real N95s have straps around the back of the head instead of ear loops and a TC number (e.g., 84A-XXX for U.S.-approved N95s).

After N95s and KN95s, a three-layer cloth mask is your next best option. The outside two layers should be a tightly-woven fabric like cotton or linen and the middle a filter fabric, either built-in or added-in by you (a folded paper towel works great).

It’s important that your mask fits snugly to trap the potentially-infected air particles rather than leaking through the edges of the mask and being directly inhaled, Abe Malkin, MD, MBA, the founder and medical director of Concierge MD LA, tells Insider. Make sure there are no gaps around the edges of your mask — a detail of equal importance regardless of if you’re vaccinated or not.

If your mask has gaps on the top or sides or if you only have a single-ply mask, it’s smart to double up with a disposable surgical-type mask underneath and a tighter cloth mask over top. And if your mask slips down under your nose as you talk, it’s a sure sign you need a better-fitting mask.

Skip the neck gaiters and bandanas — early reports that they’re worse than no mask at all were likely overblown, but researchers do know real masks are more effective. Plus, many airlines don’t allow them anyway.

Masks for kids

A well-fitting mask is the most important factor for anyone, so children should use masks made for kids, Dr. Malkin says, adding “adult masks are too big for them.”

If kids can help choose their own supplies, it increases the chance they’ll use them. Dr. Malkin advises opting for a mask with a character or designs your child likes to increase the chance that they’ll keep it on when you’re not looking.

Masks are generally required on planes for kids 5 and older, though sometimes it’s 2 or older (check your airline’s requirements before you go). And Dr. Aranoff advises all kids over 2 years old should wear one in indoor, public places unless they physically can’t. The CDC does not recommend masks for children under 2.

Kids need multiple masks just like adults, so stash a few extras in their backpacks and in the car, Jagdish Khubchandani, PhD, a professor of public health at New Mexico State University tells Insider.

At-home COVID-19 test

Most countries require you to have proof of a negative COVID test to enter. Taking one is a good idea even if you’re traveling domestically, especially if you’re unvaccinated, the CDC advises.

Even if your destination doesn’t require it and even if you’re vaccinated, it’s wise to get a COVID test both before you travel and after you arrive to minimize the chance of spreading the virus to vulnerable people. “If you are planning on visiting others, make sure to get tested to ensure everyone’s safety,” Dr. Malkin adds.

For international or domestic travel, the CDC recommends that people who aren’t vaccinated take a COVID test one to three days before you leave, keep your distance from others as much as possible while traveling, and once you return home, take another viral test and self-isolate for a full seven days. If you don’t get a viral test, you should isolate for 10 days. Either way, avoid being around high-risk folks for 14 days.

As for where to get a COVID test, many towns have free testing sites. But you can also snag an at-home rapid antigen test or, slightly less common, more accurate molecular tests (such as a PCR test). Just remember, the tests aren’t 100% foolproof.

Many at-home tests require you to mail in a nasal swab or spit tube to be processed in a lab. But newer tests (both antigen and molecular) available in some countries let you get your results online in as little as 45 minutes, with some antigen tests delivering results right in front of you, within 15 minutes. (Just be sure to follow the instructions closely and know that the tests can give a false negative.)

Most tests that are supervised by a health professional over video provide you with the certification you need for flights. Just make sure you know the precise time window to do your test and get the certification back before your flight.

When our team researched and tested the leading at-home COVID tests on the market throughout 2021, we found EmpowerDX Nasal to be the most accurate, covered by most insurance or the cheapest test available out of pocket and turns results around within two days of the lab receiving the sample. Dr. Sanchez also recommends the Abbott at-home antigen test kit, which offers six tests for $150.

Dr. Sanchez recommends each person bring at least two approved at-home test kits that meet the testing requirements when traveling internationally in case there’s a problem with one or you need to re-test. “You do not want to be stuck or delayed in returning home because you have not prepared for that required step,” she adds.

Hand soap, sanitizer, and wipes

Traveling exposes you to tons of germs — viruses, bacteria, protozoa, and fungi — outside of COVID that can cause illnesses. It’s super important to clean your hands before and after you eat, in particular. The best way: Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and then dry them thoroughly with a paper or cloth towel (rather than an air blower).

But since that’s not always possible, the second-best option is to use hand sanitizer. Always pack one with at least 60% alcohol in your carry-on, and rub it all over your hands, even the nooks and crannies, until it evaporates.

Antibacterial hand wipes are less ideal since they sometimes contain harmful chemicals and may contribute to


antibiotic resistance

. But in a pinch, they’re definitely better than having unclean hands. Keep in mind that most wipes are formulated for objects and not for skin, Dr. Malkin points out. As with hand sanitizer, the formula needs to be at least 60% alcohol to kill viruses.

Disinfectant wipes

Keeping high-touch surfaces clean is important, but don’t obsess over disinfecting every surface you come into contact with, Dr. Sanchez told us — you’re not at all likely to acquire COVID by touching an infected surface. This is especially true when driving; there’s no need to wipe down your car handles or steering wheel, for example.

That being said, high-touch surfaces on planes — armrests, tray tables, in-flight entertainment screens — can transmit germs, so it’s wise to wipe down surfaces around your seat with a disinfectant wipe.

Be sure to clean your phone too — you might be surprised by how dirty it actually is. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for how to clean it and try to use it only with clean hands. (But be careful: Some cleaners can ruin your screen.)

Storage bags

When flying, carry-on storage is essential to make it easy to access hand sanitizer and other essential items. Ideally, your carry-on bag has multiple pockets so you can keep things like food and extra masks separate from dirty items. You can also use a small pouch to keep these essentials right on top (we like these durable, zippered pouches from Baboon to the Moon).

We also recommend having a few plastic bags available to store dirty masks, in addition to things like used disinfectant wipes or tissues until you can find a trash can. You’ll want one for your car and in your carry-on.

It’s also helpful to have a designated clean storage bag where you can put your mask when you take it off to eat away from dirty surfaces or other people’s breath, Dr. Sanchez advises. Avoid placing your mask on a table or your arm to minimize germ contamination.

What you should leave at home

Gloves

You don’t need to bring gloves with you traveling. First of all, COVID-19 is transmitted by breathing, not by touching things and then touching your face. Regardless, germs can live on the surface of a latex glove, the same as skin, Dr. Malkin says. Plus, “some people become too relaxed when they are wearing gloves. They do not realize they are at more risk for spreading [germs] because they are touching multiple personal items in between other things,” he adds.

Studies have suggested that people who wear gloves tend not to wash their hands as often or notice when gloves get dirty or damaged. It’s also easy to contaminate your hands when removing gloves. Plus, we don’t need any more COVID-19 waste than we already have.

Face shields

How important are face shields? “As we do not have data to support the use of face shields in protecting individuals from acquiring COVID-19 in the community setting, they should not be used as a substitute for a well-fitting mask,” Dr. Sanchez says.

She added that while she saw no downside to adding a face shield to your travel safety kit, “they are not an equivalent substitute for face masks.” They might provide protection if someone sneezes in your direction, for example, but they don’t protect others from any virus you may be carrying.



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Why Apps Suddenly Want to Protect Kids


But most advocates for children believe the guidelines are a thoughtful approach to remodeling the internet for potentially vulnerable young people. “We definitely are fans,” James P. Steyer, the chief executive of Common Sense Media, told me.

Why has this spread globally?

To comply with the British code, Facebook, Google and other companies could have changed features only for kids who live in that country. But practically and philosophically, that might have been a bad choice.

There is growing support among lawmakers and tech executives for different features and safeguards to protect children from sexual predators, inappropriate content, bullying and other risks from being online.

Internet companies know that more regulations like Britain’s are most likely coming, so it may be prudent to act of their own accord. “I think they can see the writing on the wall,” Sonia Livingstone, a professor at the London School of Economics who studies children’s digital rights, told Wired this year.

What is Washington doing?

Members of Congress are deliberating potential updates to the U.S. law for comprehensive online child protection, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. The 1990s law compelled most popular online services in the U.S. to bar users who are younger than 13. But we know that many American kids are online with or without their parents’ permission. The question now is what more could or should be done to help make them safer online.

In a video from The New York Times Opinion section, my colleagues made the case that Congress should copy the British regulations. Some U.S. lawmakers have essentially proposed that. “Why not here?” Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, asked at Wednesday’s hearing, referring to the British code.

The British regulations are effectively here already, but without the force of U.S. law. Steyer said he was frustrated that Congress hadn’t yet passed new child safety laws but believed they would be coming very soon. “2022 is going to be very important here for tech legislation and regulation,” he said.



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How to protect yourself ahead of the holiday travel season


October was a rough month for the airline industry. Southwest and American Airlines canceled thousands of flights.

With the holidays approaching, some travelers worry it may only get worse.

“I don’t want to deal with it,” Cassandra Adams said.

American Airlines and Southwest blamed weather and staffing for what happened in Phoenix, Dallas, and Miami.

Travel experts say starting this coming week, a new wrinkle could make things even worse: International travel restrictions will be eased and fully vaccinated international travelers will be allowed to fly into the U.S.

Larger planes that airlines have used for domestic travel over the past year will also start heading overseas again.

Chris Millett, who was flying to Miami, said he will try to avoid holiday travel.

“Good luck to everyone doing it this holiday,” he said. “I’m going to stick with driving.”

How to protect yourself

So what can you do to protect yourself? We turned to a veteran flyer, Dia Adams, a travel rewards expert with Forbes Advisor.

Her first tip: “Fly nonstop, if at all possible. Don’t save $20 by making that connection in Topeka because you may be sleeping in Topeka.”

Next, she says download your airline’s app.

“In the app, you can track the incoming flight for the plane upon which you’re leaving. Now, it’s not going to guarantee the crew, but it will at least guarantee the metal,” she said. “You book your flights in the app as opposed to having to wait 50 people deep in a line to talk to an agent. So you will save yourself the hassle by having that foresight.”

Also, if at all possible, she suggests you buy your ticket with an airline credit card that has travel protections. Some costs can be covered if you get delayed in another city.

“You can book your own hotel,” she said. “It’s usually up to a hundred dollars a day in expenses, and you can then submit them to the insurance on the credit card company.”

Government rules don’t force an airline to pay for your hotel, but many will if it’s not weather-related.

Also, if you’re delayed because of a broken plane or late crew, ask about their food voucher policy, so you don’t waste your money.
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NYC Passes Six Bills to Protect Food Delivery Workers’ Rights


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NYC Will Pass Landmark Laws to Protect Delivery Workers


Members of the grassroots organization Los Deliveristas Unidos

Today’s vote is an expected victory for delivery workers.
Photo: Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images

Today, City Council is expected to pass a slate of bills meant to improve working conditions for New York City’s delivery workers. The package — a direct response to the activism of Los Deliveristas Unidos, a group of mostly immigrant delivery workers — would ensure delivery drivers bathroom access and minimum pay per trip, among other long-overdue protections.

“We’ve seen them face everything from COVID-19 exposure to waist-deep flood waters to violent attacks, all in a day’s work,” Councilmember Carlina Rivera, who’s worked closely with Los Deliveristas, told Grub via email. “The package of bills passing today marks a critical first step toward securing rights, protections, and justice for our delivery workers.”

It’s a big deal: The NYC news website The City, which has been meticulously covering the working conditions of delivery drivers during the pandemic, points out that this legislation has support not only from Mayor de Blasio and City Council Speaker Cory Johnson, but also from at least one of the major delivery platforms. A spokesperson for Grubhub told the website that the company “supports the proposals … that would provide a number of new protections.”

What proposals, exactly? Here’s a breakdown of what could change:

Delivery workers will (finally) be allowed to use the bathroom
During the pandemic, the right to pee became a hot-button issue. Most other bathroom options had evaporated, and yet many restaurants wouldn’t let delivery workers use their bathrooms (even though, one might note, those same delivery workers were a lifeline for restaurants, which for months were prohibited from serving on the premises at all). New York City still won’t have an actual public-bathroom infrastructure, but a bill from Councilmember Rivera would require restaurants to allow delivery workers to use their restrooms as long as they’re picking up an order. Restaurants caught denying workers access would face fines — $50 for the first offense and $100 for every violation after.

There would be minimum per-trip payments
On average, delivery workers earn $7.87 an hour before tips, or about half of the city’s minimum wage, according to a recent report from the Workers’ Justice Project and the Worker Institute at the School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell. With tips, that goes up to $12.21 — still well below the minimum. A bill introduced by Councilmember Brad Lander is designed to change that by establishing minimum per-trip payments. Those minimums would be independent of any tips.

Apps would have to tell customers where their tips go
Any app that solicits tips would be required to disclose to customers exactly where that money goes. It would have to lay out how much of each tip goes to the delivery worker, in what form it gets to the delivery worker (is it cash?), and whether the tip is paid out immediately.

The apps would also be required to extend the same kind of transparency to delivery workers, who would be immediately notified if they’d been tipped, how much they’d been tipped, whether a customer had made changes to an existing tip, and, if a reason was provided, why. They’d also be required to inform workers how much they’d earned — in both compensation and gratuities — the day before.

Payment — and payment schedule — would be more regulated
This one is relatively straightforward: Delivery platforms wouldn’t be allowed to charge workers any fees to receive wages and tips, would be required to pay workers at least once a week, and would need to offer at least one payment option that doesn’t require a bank account.

Delivery companies would have to provide workers with insulated bags
Those ubiquitous thermal delivery bags? They’re an unofficial job requirement, workers say, and can run them up to $60 out of pocket. This
bill would require food-delivery apps to make the insulated bags available to any courier who’d completed at least six deliveries for the company and would prohibit companies from charging any money for the bags.

Workers could limit their personal delivery zones
A proposal from Councilmember Justin Brannan would allow delivery workers to set limits on how far they’re willing to travel for a delivery. It would also let workers specify whether or not they’ll accept trips over bridges and tunnels — known danger zones for e-bike couriers — without penalty.

This, according to the City, is “one of the thornier items” in the bunch, and in a statement, DoorDash expressed concerns about the bill, suggesting that allowing workers to opt out of certain areas could lead to discrimination. (For what it’s worth, the spokesperson did say the company recognized the “unique challenges” facing NYC delivery workers and would work with city officials.)

For Sergio Ajche, a Guatemalan food-delivery worker and organizer with Los Deliveristas, these bills are only the beginning. “These six bills will help workers, but they’re not enough,” he told the website. “Only time, each passing day will inform us what else we should change and demand. Every day more delivery workers are getting together and the movement grows. We’re making progress.”



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September Will Be Hot. Here’s How to Protect Your Pets (and Yourself).


For much of California, the arrival of September has brought extreme, scalding temperatures.

Sunday was the hottest day in Los Angeles in nearly 11 months, according to AccuWeather. Temperatures in the Inland Empire and the Sacramento region soared into the triple-digits over the long weekend. And in the next few days, dangerous heat waves are projected for large swaths of the state, weather officials warn.

Across California, September tends to be warmer than we might like. It’s usually the hottest time of the year in the Bay Area and when temperature records are most likely to be broken in Southern California.

So, given what’s probably in store for us, I’m sharing some tips today on how to cope with extreme heat: Earlier this summer, my colleague Jill Cowan put together this guide for staying cool and safe when temperatures spike. The federal government has more advice for you here.

Plus, I spoke to some animal experts about how to care for your pets when it’s really hot out. The American Veterinary Medical Association estimated in 2016 that 57 percent of California households have a pet, though I’d guess that number has risen since so many people (like myself) adopted pets during the pandemic.

Gagandeep Kaur, a veterinary medicine professor at Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona, told me that pet owners needed to help their animals avoid heat stroke, a potentially fatal condition in which body temperature rises beyond a healthy range. Though humans can also get heat stroke, animals are more susceptible because it’s harder for them to cool off.

“Local emergency clinics, they’ve seen hundreds of cases this summer,” Kaur told me. “It’s not something that’s rare.”

But it is preventable. Here’s what to know:

  • Be aware of risk factors. Dogs and cats are generally comfortable in the same temperatures as humans. But your pets are at higher risk for heat stroke if they are very old, very young, overweight, or have lung or heart disease.

    Dogs with short snouts, such as bulldogs, pugs and Shih Tzus, are particularly vulnerable because they tend to have breathing problems.

  • Provide water and shade. Always.

  • Dogs are more at risk than cats: Cats are usually better about keeping themselves cool by limiting their movement when it’s hot, said Steve Epstein, the chief of emergency services at the University of California, Davis’s School of Veterinary Medicine.

    In Epstein’s home in Davis, the air-conditioning doesn’t turn on until around 85 degrees, but he doesn’t worry about his cat becoming ill, he told me.

    Dogs, however, may chase after a squirrel or want to go on a walk even when it’s unsafe for them. Epstein said he recently treated a dog with heat stroke that had been racing around in a backyard when it was 90 degrees.

Here’s a shocking statistic: Amazon nearly doubled its annual profit last year to $21 billion and is on pace to far exceed that total this year. The company is undoubtedly one of the biggest economic winners of the pandemic.

But Amazon faces growing scrutiny of its treatment of workers.

A bill moving through the California Legislature would rein in production quotas at warehouses that critics say are excessive and force workers to forgo bathroom breaks. The legislation is part of growing scrutiny of the company’s treatment of workers.

The Assembly passed the bill in May, and the State Senate is expected to vote on it this week.

Read more from my colleague Noam Scheiber.


Thirteen delicious, original ways to eat eggs for dinner.


Today’s travel tip comes from Arin Kramer, who recommends an adventure in Marin County:

The perfect day: Take the whole family biking on the paved shady Cross Marin Trail through the redwoods of Samuel P. Taylor State Park, along Lagunitas Creek. You can bike all the way to the Inkwells swimming hole on a hot day. Afterwards, stop at the Marin Community Farms Stand.


When is the recall election?

Officially, the recall election is on Sept. 14. But because it is happening under an extension of pandemic rules that were created during the 2020 presidential election, that’s really more of a deadline than it is an Election Day in a more traditional sense.

Ballots returned by mail must be postmarked by Sept. 14. (You don’t need to add a stamp; you should have a return envelope.) Voters can also return their ballots to a secure drop box by Sept. 14 at 8 p.m. (Look up the ones closest to you here.)

Finally, voters can cast ballots in person — and in many places early voting is available. (You can find early voting locations here.)

Read answers to more of your frequently asked questions about the California recall election.

Tell us what else you want to know about the recall. Email your questions to [email protected].

An Oakland Brewery is now showcasing the irresistible faces of cats and dogs on its IPAs.

Ale Industries has partnered with the East Bay Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to put photos of adoptable fur babies on beer cans to try to encourage people to take the pets home, reports SFist.


Thanks for reading. I’ll be back tomorrow. — Soumya

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Chloe who directed “Nomadland” (4 letters).

Miles McKinley and Briana Scalia contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].

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Egypt says concrete wall will protect resort of Sharm el-Sheikh


(CNN) — Egypt says a recently constructed 36-kilometer concrete and wire barrier encircling Sharm el-Sheikh will help protect tourism at the Red Sea resort on the southern tip of the Sinai peninsula.

Authorities in southern Sinai hope to revitalize tourism, which has been dented by upheaval after Egypt’s 2011 uprising, the crash of a Russian passenger jet in Sinai in 2015 and the coronavirus pandemic. In 2005, bombings in Sharm el-Sheikh killed dozens in one of Egypt’s deadliest militant attacks.

The security barrier is made of concrete slabs with stretches of wire fencing separating the resort from the desert around it. Some of the slabs are marked with black peace symbols.

Those entering the city by road have to pass through one of four gates equipped with cameras and scanners.

A police guard at the Ruwaysat entrance of the security cement barrier built around the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt on February 6, 2021.

A police guard at the Ruwaysat entrance of the security cement barrier built around the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt on February 6, 2021.

Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters

Sharm el-Sheikh is about 360 km (224 miles) south of Sinai’s northern, Mediterranean coast, where an insurgency by Islamist militants has been concentrated.

“The distance between them is huge, plus there is great security with Egypt’s Second Army securing the North Sinai, and the Third Army securing South Sinai,” South Sinai Governor Khaled Fouda told journalists on a tour of the area at the weekend.

“They will be searched, security cameras will identify them, vehicles will go through a scan, so that when they arrive in the city, it’ll be after a full search operation.”

A museum housing ancient Egyptian artifacts opened in Sharm el-Sheikh last year amid efforts to diversify tourism activities at the beach resort. A university named after Saudi Arabia’s King Salman has also opened recently in the city.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, Sharm el-Sheikh often hosted international summits attended by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.



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