Similar to last year, this holiday season is again affected by COVID – a new virus strain known as “Omicron” is now cause for concern. The strain first appeared in South Africa and has also been detected in Canada, France, Denmark, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Israel, Hong Kong and, as of December 2nd, here in the United States. In a speech President Biden made last week, he declared, “We’re going to fight this variant with science and speed, not chaos and confusion.” The President will also be setting up new guidelines and travel restrictions due to the new variant. In New York State, there have already been five confirmed cases of the Omicron strain.
Now that a majority of the global population has access to the vaccine, scientists are wondering if it will help decrease cases of the Omicron strain as well. According to the New York Times, Jesse Bloom, an evolutionary biologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, stated that “Probably in a few weeks, we’ll have a better sense of how much this variant is spreading and how necessary it might be to push forward with a variant vaccine.” A revision might be needed in order to deal with the continuing variation of strains that have been appearing around the world.
However, it still is suggested by Dr. Fauci that people get vaccinated to stay safe against the already known forms of COVID that have been observed in the US. According to an interview with Dr. Fauci on CNN this November, the health advisor to the president said, “Get vaccinated and you can enjoy the holidays very easily. And if you’re not, please be careful.”
Travel Do’s and Don’ts
Before scheduling a flight or an expensive excursion somewhere, check what the CDC guidelines have to say. Certain countries have now become off-limits since they are trying to decrease their cases of COVID and its variety of strains.
If certain countries are still open, check the CDC, the rate of COVID cases, and the percentage of the population that is vaccinated. Some countries may be welcoming foreign tourists; however, the CDC may suggest that traveling to these countries is unsafe at the moment.
If a country is open to visitors, has high vaccination rates, and relatively low cases, check out their own guidelines for international travelers. Keep in mind: you may have to get a COVID test before entering the country, a country may require travelers to wear a mask everywhere, or a country may require travelers to be vaccinated.
In fact, one informational section of the CDC website on international travel urges travelers to get vaccinated. Airlines will not allow passengers to get on a flight without a vaccine unless the trip is absolutely necessary. In that case, the website demands unvaccinated travelers get tested before and after their trip. If at any point before, during, or after your trip you feel sick, the CDC recommends getting a COVID test. It is better to stay safe while we are still living through a pandemic.
For example, a popular travel destination around the holidays is undoubtedly Aruba. According to the CDC guidelines, their suggestions about Aruba are as follows:
- Make sure you are fully vaccinated before traveling to Aruba.
- Unvaccinated travelers should avoid nonessential travel to Aruba.
- Because of the current situation in Aruba, all travelers may be at risk for getting and spreading COVID-19 variants.
- Travelers should follow recommendations or requirements in Aruba, including wearing a mask and staying 6 feet apart from others.
As for traveling within the US, each state has different requirements for vaccinations, mask wearing, and social distancing. Check the rates of COVID positivity and guidelines for the state you are travelling to. If possible, driving may be a necessary and safer alternative to flying.
How to Navigate the CDC Website
If searching a specific country, the CDC website has a search bar for users to type in their destination of choice. They also have a Travel Health Informational section of the website with active links to different kinds of travel such as information regarding traveling within the US, cruise travel, and testing requirements. If you would like to see a guide for a listing of countries and their COVID information, look up “COVID-19 Travel Recommendations by Destination”. There, you will find the map below in addition to a listing of countries with very high, high, moderate, low, and unknown cases of COVID. The map has features for you to zoom in on a specific country and read a blurb about their guidelines for vaccination status and mask wearing.
Red = very high
Scarlett = high
Orange = moderate
Yellow = low
Grey = unknown
For more information, you can visit the following sites suggested by the CDC’s website: