Weighing the Risks of Vacation Travel During Omicron: What the Experts Are Saying
Less than a week away from Christmas, what does all this mean for people who travel to see family and loved ones? We turned to four experts in the field for their advice and how they are handling this year’s holiday season.
With the increase in Covid-19 cases in many parts of the world and the rapid spread of the new Omicron variant, vacation travel suddenly looks a lot more complicated than it was a few months ago.
The good news is that early data suggests that vaccines still offer good protection. While early evidence indicates that Omicron may be more contagious and better able to evade vaccines, it so far appears unlikely to cause serious illness in those vaccinated.
The less good news is that there is little real data on the highly mutated variant. This not only makes Omicron’s true risks difficult to assess, but it also made international vacation travel more difficult: Many countries have put in place new travel restrictions to contain the pressure, creating a confusing patchwork of rules. and regulations.
So, less than a week away from Christmas, what does all of this mean for people who travel to see family and loved ones? We turned to four experts in the field for their advice and how they are handling this year’s holiday season.
Jessica Justman, Columbia University Medical Center epidemiologist
What is the risk of traveling on vacation right now?
The current situation with Omicron is changing rapidly, and data from many locations, including the United States and South Africa, appears to be of concern. Critical indicators will be trends in hospitalizations and deaths as well as hospital capacity and percent positivity.
As for the details, I think it is possible to cross an airport safely by wearing a well-fitting mask, even double masking, and keeping as much as possible away from others when passing through security or the airport. boarding the plane. If you’ve been shopping at the supermarket, the risk at an airport is probably not that different. If you are someone who has not been vaccinated and who is not wearing masks, then supermarkets and airports are going to be risky. If you are vaccinated and boosted and wear a mask most of the time, you should be fine.
In hotels, I would avoid eating indoors in crowded places because you have to remove your mask. While crowded elevators can make you nervous, the ride is usually short and most people are masked. In taxis, keep your mask on and you will be fine. For family gatherings, have people take a quick self-test upon arrival (or before leaving the house) to make sure they are negative before joining the larger group.
It’s all about risk assessment. Is it important for you to travel during the holidays? Can you possibly manage with a visit after the holidays?
Has the current wave made you reconsider your own vacation plans?
Yes, I am thinking. I plan to make a decision by this weekend. Everyone should think about factors such as family members who are older and / or have underlying health issues when assessing risk.
William Schaffner, Vanderbilt University epidemiologist
How should people handle vacation travel this year?
They must hang up their stockings carefully. One of the ground rules I would suggest is that you are allowed to come to the celebration if you are vaccinated and boosted. But if Uncle Frank, as much as we love him, isn’t vaccinated, we have to tell him he can’t join. We will face him, but he will have to unwrap his presents on his own. If you are organizing a group activity (worship, party), wear your mask. We need to get back to social distancing and really reconsider indoor gatherings. It is better to rent a movie than to go to the cinema. And take a quick test the day before your meeting. If everyone is negative, it just adds another level of trust.
How about heading to the holiday gathering if you live far away?
If you can get there by car, it’s obviously safer. You can control all aspects of your trip, like eating at restaurants while driving. If you can’t, be as careful as possible. Do plenty of hand hygiene. Stay away from people wearing their masks under their nose. Stay away from people who sneeze and cough.
What are you doing for the holidays?
My son just arrived from Germany last night for our Christmas reunion. But we haven’t seen him yet – we have a vulnerable person in our house, so he stays with another relative until he’s tested.
Monica Gandhi, infectious disease expert at the University of California at San Francisco
What is your advice for people who are considering changing their travel plans?
I just think we’re in a very different place than last year. There is a new variation, and I know people are freaking out. But if you are vaccinated, we must trust the power of vaccines. Get a booster and continue on your way. Wear masks on airplanes and other crowded spaces, but otherwise enjoy your vacation.
Omicron is more transmissible. It’s final. But the infections also appear to be milder, either because of the variant or the population. There seems to be less antibody response, but B and T cell immunity seems to work very well. These three things for me do not suggest that anyone should cancel their travel plans.
Planning to travel for the holidays?
I will be traveling with my two boys. My dad was recently immunocompromised from treatment for lymphoma, but we’re all vaccinated, so we’ll probably all be together. If either of us was not feeling well or someone was not vaccinated, we would do a quick test before we got together.
Emanuel Goldman, Rutgers University microbiologist
What’s your advice for people reconsidering vacation travel?
My thinking is so bad that no one should change plans, but maybe we need to add masking to our plans. The first reports show if you are vaccinated with a booster, which still offers good protection. So at this point, I wouldn’t change travel plans, but make sure to hide in public places. If you are vaccinated, planes, trains, and taxis are all right as long as you are careful about your masking. If you are not vaccinated and do not want to catch Covid, you will need to be very careful. There is a lot that we still don’t know about this.