A guide to travel in times of holidays and omicron

Taylor Allen wanted to be a responsible traveler, but she found it difficult.

Late last week, at least seven people Allen knew in Brooklyn posted on Instagram that they had tested positive for the coronavirus. She hadn’t seen any in person. But after suffering a severe headache and a runny nose on Friday, he canceled his Saturday morning flight to Jacksonville, Florida, where he planned to meet his parents and grandparents.

Two home tests – one carried out on Friday and one on Saturday – came back negative. But Allen, 22, who is vaccinated but has yet to receive a booster dose, wanted more official assurance before rescheduling his flight. Sunday evening, after her scheduled appointment at an urgent care clinic in Crown Heights, an employee told her that she and about 30 other people awaiting results in the cold should be back by 8 a.m. morning.

“I really don’t want to put anyone at risk,” said Allen, who left the clinic with plans to return the next day.

Even as the number of coronavirus cases skyrockets in parts of the United States, fueled in particular by the omicron variant, it seems that the race for party travel is unstoppable. On Friday, December 17, Los Angeles International Airport reported the busiest day since the start of 2020. And on Sunday, 2.1 million people passed through airports across the United States, nearly double the number at this time last year.

For those determined to stick to their travel plans, it’s never been more confusing to figure out how to do it responsibly. Part of the problem is that getting tested in a timely manner has been difficult, especially in hard-hit cities like New York. Another major challenge is that many people plan to stay in a house with fully vaccinated friends and family members. Now they have learned that vaccination does not even remotely guarantee that they will not become infected. What are travelers left with?

Only one in six Americans received a booster dose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fully vaccinated people who did not receive a booster are at least twice as likely to test positive as those who received a booster.

If you’re planning to travel in the coming weeks or months and you’re already fully immunized, one of the best ways to be a responsible traveler is to get your booster shot, said Johns Hopkins Berman Director Jeffrey Kahn. Institute for Bioethics.

As for the best timing, data shows that the optimal immune response occurs about two weeks after receiving the booster, according to Wafaa El-Sadr, professor of medicine and epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health in the USA. Columbia University. However, after a few days many people will be protected, other experts say, so taking a third dose today could still benefit you if you are traveling for the holidays.

When deciding what’s more responsible in terms of vacation travel, Kely Hills, co-founder of Rogue Bioethics, a Boston-based consulting firm, advises thinking about “non-pecuniary damage” and asking yourself if you’re prepared for the consequences if you infect a vulnerable person.

This doesn’t have to translate to cancellation plans, but it might encourage you to wear an N95 instead of a homemade mask on a plane or decide to get tested even if it’s a problem. If you find yourself indoors and without a mask with many people during the days of travel, you may also consider paying extra and staying in another house or motel room instead of staying with family and friends. .

“Today’s motto should be: I don’t want to be a propagator,” said Leonard J. Marcus, one of the directors of the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative at Harvard University and director of an initiative focused on public health during flights.

Marcus said that while he is not aware of any data suggesting that children are prone to infection on airplanes, he recommends that, if possible, parents do not fly with unvaccinated children until let them know more about omicron.

“If it was my grandkids, I would push it away,” he said. In general, if someone wears a mask correctly on an airplane, the risk of catching it should be low because the ventilation system is so good, he said.

Anthony Fauci, America’s top infectious disease expert, told CNBC he felt safe knowing his adult children would be flying out to visit him for parties. He also noted that all are vaccinated.

Screening in many places is currently a challenge.

“On a scale of one to ten of difficulty, that’s a ten,” said Mary Mathurin, 51, outside a Brooklyn testing center on Sunday evening. As she waited to be called, her mobile phone played music on hold during a call with another location that had not yet sent her the results of a PCR test taken several days earlier. After about 70 minutes the call was hung up. Minutes later, an attendant in downtown Brooklyn informed her that she could not be seen. Mathurin had to take a flight for Saint Lucia the next morning, and he didn’t know what he was going to do.

Many pharmacies and online vendors no longer have home tests. The White House plans to make 500 million free home tests available to the public, but that won’t be until January. For those who do manage to get hold of a kit, several experts have advised using it as close to the release date as possible.

“The closer you are to the event, the better and more accurate,” said Lin H. Chen, a professor at Harvard Medical School and director of the Center for Travel Medicine at Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Chen suggests doing a home antigen test on the day of the meeting. (If someone tests positive at any time, it is recommended that they do not attend the event and take a PCR test to confirm the result). If a group of people are going to stay in one house for a long time, it is advisable to take regular tests during their stay, Chen said. This is especially important if someone is not vaccinated or boosted or has been exposed to someone who tested positive, other experts said.

Hills, the bioethicist, said many people are understandably confused about having to make so many decisions that should be public health.

“We should get more advice,” he said, noting that many state and federal agencies offer different advice.

At the Brooklyn testing site, several travelers echoed that point, lamenting that public health officials were not facilitating what they considered responsible travel: getting tested before visiting family.

Some travelers have added to these frustrations the feeling that it is up to them to determine what is socially responsible and epidemiologically safe, and then to convince their family and friends of the policies they have created. A woman, who declined to use her name because she didn’t want her family to identify her, said she no longer felt comfortable taking a flight with her two- and three-year-old children after learning at Thanksgiving that some of his own family members had decided to fly even though they tested positive.

Instead of fighting with them over what is appropriate or worrying that someone sitting next to her has taken the same approach as her family – and may infect her or her children and thus end up infecting their father – she decided to stay home this Christmas.

Heather Murphy is a travel reporter. Welcome to all advice, questions and complaints regarding travel during the pandemic. @heathertal

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