How vacation travel changes for the omicron variant

(CNN) — Vacation travel will resume soon, and it’s likely to be another busy time for American travelers despite the omicron variant of the coronavirus.

Holiday air travel is now at a higher level than pre-pandemic levels.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced Thursday that 2.08 million travelers passed through security checks on Wednesday, more than on the same weekday in 2019.

The TSA expects this Thursday to be one of the busiest days of the holiday season at airports across the United States and predicts that 20 million people will fly between December 23 and January 3, rivaling figures before 2019. .

According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, if you’re vaccinated, there’s no need to change your vacation plans, even with the omicron variant circulating in the United States.

“If you’re vaccinated, your family is vaccinated, enjoy the vacation at home with your family,” Fauci told a CNN Global forum Dec. 1.

Traveling increases the risk of getting infected, he said, but wearing a mask and getting vaccinations and booster shots help protect travelers in crowded spaces.

As the holiday travel season picks up, here are more expert tips to make travel safer and smoother:

protect your health

Two new preprint articles add to growing evidence that the omicron variant of the coronavirus may be less likely to cause serious illness and hospitalizations compared to the delta variant.

Both studies include preliminary data and have not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Getting vaccinated is essential for two reasons, says Dr. William Schaffner, professor of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

The first is the delta variant.

“It’s the virus that’s here, right now, in every community, spreading,” Schaffner said. “But number 2, and it has to do with omicron, our vaccines are likely to provide at least partial protection. And partial protection is always better than none.”

Travelers walk through the main concourse of Reagan National Airport in Arlington, Va. November 23 during the Thanksgiving holiday.
Credit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Several vaccine manufacturers are already evaluating the effectiveness of their booster doses against omicron. Moderna says its third dose is effective against the variant, and AstraZeneca said its booster dose shows a good immune response against omicron.

CNN medical analyst Dr. Leana Wen agrees that the best defense is to protect yourself as much as possible with vaccinations and booster shots.

Whether or not to travel is a personal calculation, Wen said.

“There are a lot of unknowns, so I think it depends on people’s individual risk tolerance. There will be people who don’t have a problem with the unknowns and who are generally healthy, fully vaccinated and not as worried.But there are others .people who, due to their own medical situation or risk factors, might feel differently.

The CDC continues to recommend delaying travel until fully immunized.

For those traveling with unvaccinated people, the agency offers safer options, such as short-stop road trips and direct flights.

Logistical considerations for international travel amid the wave of the omicron variant

Travelers with international plans have more to consider. Ever-changing restrictions in countries around the world and the new US requirement to get tested within a day of your flight back to the US could present unexpected hurdles.

“This is a very dynamic situation, and travelers need to keep in mind how important travel is to them and have a plan B and a plan C,” said Wen, an emergency physician and professor of Health Policy and Management at George Washington University. Milken Institute School of Public Health.

“They have to think through all the scenarios of what could happen. Let’s say they end up in a country that’s going to impose a mandatory quarantine upon arrival. How are they going to deal with it? Is it worth going there? to go ?”

U.S. embassies provide country-specific information to U.S. citizens, including whether testing at a particular destination is reliably available within the one-day window required for their return.

On December 8, testing in Egypt was listed as available in one day “at additional cost”. In Chile, on December 8, it was a “no”: the tests are not reliably available during this period.

Arrive safely. and what happens after

Wen and Schaffner point out that what travelers intend to do at their destination is likely to pose a higher risk than the trip itself, as long as travelers wear masks in transit and keep their distance as much as possible.

People should wear a high-quality mask, N95, KN95 or KF94, whenever they’re in crowded, enclosed places with people whose vaccination status is unknown, Wen said.

“If you plan to see vaccinated family members and be outdoors or around other people known to be vaccinated, the risk is much lower than if you plan to be indoors with people whose vaccination status is unknown,” said.

Traffic fills North Capitol Street on November 23 in Washington.
Credit: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

A trip that includes a lot of shopping and going to the theater, eating at crowded restaurants and going to your favorite New York bar is definitely riskier, Schaffner said.

“If you want to do all of that, yes, you’re taking more risk, but it really has nothing to do with the omicron variant. It has to do with delta right now,” he said shortly. time after the announcement of the discovery of the variant. .omicron

When everyone who can get vaccinated and gets booster shots gets it, you’re also helping to protect children under 5 who can’t get vaccinated yet.

If there are immunocompromised family members or unvaccinated children, or both, at a gathering, Wen suggested everyone quarantine for at least three days before the gathering and get tested. fast just before they meet.

“It would reduce the risk for everyone,” he said. The CDC recently updated its guidelines on self-diagnosis as a risk reduction strategy.

Schaffner said his entire family was tested before getting together for Thanksgiving.

“And so, not only are we vaccinated and boosted, but we tested negative. If you start monitoring yourself in this way, you can travel, meet and participate in very low-risk social events,” he said. he declares.

Ease the way, when it comes to travel

The TSA encourages travelers to enroll in TSA PreCheck, the expedited screening program that does not require members to remove their shoes, belts, liquids, laptops or jackets.

The TSA expects traveler volume to approach pre-pandemic levels this season.
Credit: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Other advice from the TSA:

  • Avoid airport rush hours, usually between 5 and 7 a.m. and 4 and 6 p.m.
  • Arrive early: two hours before domestic flights or three hours for international flights.
  • Don’t bring anything to slow you down. Here is a list of what you can and cannot bring. (Note: Firearms are prohibited at checkpoints and in carry-on baggage).
  • Respect TSA agents, flight crew, and other frontline workers and pack firearms properly to avoid fines.

The AAA travel organization recommends travel insurance.

“Buy travel insurance and airline insurance if you can. That little box that you often skip, tick it this year because we don’t know what airline and TSA staffing will be like,” the official said. AAA spokesperson. Andrew Gross before the Thanksgiving travel rush.

And make sure your vehicle is ready. The AAA suggests that you check key components like the battery, fuel system, tires, brakes, and fluid levels before a road trip.

Even though 2021 is not going to deliver the covid-free holiday season we were hoping for, it is possible to get together more safely with family and friends this year.

— CNN’s Jen Christensen, Naomi Thomas and Pete Muntean contributed reporting.

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