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    Spring break: Should I stay or should I go?

a group of three diverse college students, smiling and talking, wearing face masks and carrying backpacks in a school classroom

To mitigate the risk of COVID-19 exposure, a number of colleges across the U.S. have amended their academic calendars to eliminate spring break, thereby reducing student travel and minimizing the potential for travel-related COVID-19 exposure.

Nevertheless, after nearly a year of being cooped up, many people are growing frustrated and looking to travel.

With spring break approaching, Dr. Abinash Virk, a Mayo Clinic infectious diseases expert, weighs in on whether people should consider traveling. Dr. Virk says you could still be exposed to COVID-19 while traveling, even though COVID-19 vaccinations are underway.

Watch: Dr. Abinash Virk discusses spring travel concerns.

Journalists: Broadcast-quality sound bites with Dr. Virk are available in the downloads. Please courtesy, "Abinash Virk, M.D./Infectious Diseases/Mayo Clinic."

"The problem is that we are not at a point where we have 80% of the population protected through the vaccine or natural infection. A large number of people are in fact not protected, or could have what we call asymptomatic COVID-19 infection and be transmitting it to others around them. So, as we start traveling, there's going to be an increased risk of exposure at airports, restaurants or hotels ― either you picking up COVID-19 or you giving it to somebody if people are not careful about masking and social distancing," says Dr. Virk.

"The risk of travel is that travel-related COVID-19 could increase the transmission rates to our patients and our population. So we recommend not traveling, if you can avoid it," says Dr. Virk.

Another reason why Dr. Virk says people should be cautious about traveling for spring break has to do with the emergence of new variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the virus that causes COVID-19.

"We don't know what the impact of travel is going to be. Certainly, we worry that people may travel and pick up a COVID-19 variant, especially after international travel, and bring it back to the U.S.," says Dr. Virk.

COVID-19 variants that originated from the U.K., South Africa and Brazil have all been documented in the U.S.

"We are still learning a lot more about these variants. We know some of these variants are more easily transmissible from one person to the other. Also, there is possibility that these new variants could cause additional hospitalizations or severity of illness. We need to be really careful to limit travel until we have more people vaccinated and until we know that the vaccine will actually prevent people from acquiring the variants that are around the world," says Dr. Virk.

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For the safety of its patients, staff and visitors, Mayo Clinic has strict masking policies in place. Anyone shown without a mask was either recorded prior to COVID-19 or recorded in a nonpatient care area where social distancing and other safety protocols were followed.

Information in this post was accurate at the time of its posting. Due to the fluid nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, scientific understanding, along with guidelines and recommendations, may have changed since the original publication date

For more information and all your COVID-19 coverage, go to the Mayo Clinic News Network and mayoclinic.org.

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Feb. 1, 2021- Mayo Clinic COVID-19 trending map using red color tones for hot spots