Taylor Allen wanted to be a responsible traveler, but she found it difficult.
Late last week, at least seven people Ms Allen knew in Brooklyn posted on Instagram that they had tested positive for the coronavirus. She hadn’t seen any in person. But after developing a severe headache and a runny nose on Friday, she canceled her Saturday morning flight to Jacksonville, Fla., Where she planned to see her parents and grandparents.
Two home tests – a Friday and a Saturday – came back negative. But Ms Allen, 22, who is fully vaccinated but not yet boosted, wanted more official insurance before changing her trip booking. On Sunday evening, well after her scheduled appointment at a Crown Heights emergency care clinic, an employee told her and the 30 or so other people who were awaiting tests in the freezing cold that they should come back at 8 am.
âI don’t really want to endanger anyone,â said Ms. Allen, who left the clinic with the intention of returning the next day.
Even as the number of coronavirus cases is skyrocketing in parts of the country, thanks in large part to the Omicron variant, the rush for vacation travel seems unstoppable. Friday, Los Angeles International Airport reported its busiest day since early 2020, and on Sunday 2.1 million people passed through U.S. airports, nearly twice as many as at the same time last year.
For those who are determined to stick to their travel plans, figuring out how to do it responsibly has never been so confusing. Part of the problem is that testing has been difficult to obtain in a timely manner, especially in hard-hit cities like New York. Another major challenge is that many people plan to stay in a home with friends and family who are fully immunized. Now they are learning that vaccination is far from a guarantee that they will not become infected. So what can travelers do?
1. Get a reminder
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only one in six Americans has received a booster. People who are fully vaccinated without a booster are at least twice as likely to test positive as those who have received a booster.
If you plan to travel in the weeks and months to come and are already fully vaccinated, one of the best ways to be a responsible traveler is to take a booster, said Jeffrey Kahn, director of Johns Hopkins Berman. Institute of Bioethics. .
In terms of timing, the data shows that the optimal immune response occurs about two weeks after the booster, according to Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr, professor of epidemiology and medicine at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health in New York City. But many will see some protection in a few days, other experts have noted, so getting a third injection today could still benefit those traveling on vacation.
2. Consider the worst-case scenario
When deciding what’s to blame in terms of vacation travel, Kelly Hills, co-founder of Rogue Bioethics, a Boston-based consultancy firm, advises thinking about the “moral injury” and asking yourself if you’re mentally prepared. the consequences if you infect a vulnerable person. .
This doesn’t have to mean canceling plans, but it can encourage you to wear an N95 instead of a homemade mask on an airplane or take a test even if that’s a problem. If you are indoors, unmasked around many people in the days leading up to the trip, you may also want to pay extra to reserve a separate house or motel room, rather than staying with family or friends. .
â’I don’t want to be a spreader’ – that should be the motto today,â said Leonard J. Marcus, co-director of the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative at Harvard University and director of an initiative focused on public health. on flights.
Dr Marcus said that while he is not aware of any data to suggest that children are likely to be infected on planes, he advises parents not to travel with unvaccinated children – if possible – until ‘to what we know more about Omicron.
âIf these were my grandchildren, I would postpone,â he said. In general, if someone wears an appropriate mask on an airplane, the risk of getting infected should be low because the ventilation system is very good, he said.
Dr Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease official, told CNBC he felt safe when his adult children flew to see him during the holidays. He also noted that they are vaccinated.
3. Test as close as possible to the gathering
Testing in many parts of the country is difficult right now.
âOn a scale of one to 10, that’s a 10,â Mary Mathurin, 51, said outside a test site in Brooklyn on Sunday night. As she waited for her name to be called, her cell phone played music on hold from a call with another facility that had yet to send its PCR results several days earlier. After about 70 minutes, the call was dropped. A few minutes later, a patient care assistant at the Brooklyn site told her that the site could not host her. She was supposed to fly to Saint Lucia the next morning and wasn’t sure what to do.
Many pharmacies and online retailers have sold out at-home testing. The White House plans to make 500 million free home tests available, but that won’t happen until January. For those who do manage to get a kit, use it as close to your departure date as possible, several experts have said.
The coronavirus pandemic: what you need to know
“The closer you are to the event, the better and more precise it will be,” said Dr. Lin H. Chen, professor at Harvard Medical School and director of the Mount Auburn Hospital Travel Medicine Center in Cambridge, Mass.
Dr Chen suggested doing a home antigen test on the day of the rally. (If a person is positive at any time, they are advised not to attend the event and have a PCR test for confirmation.) If people are staying together in a house for an extended period of time, it is advisable to test periodically throughout their stay, Dr. Chen mentioned. This is especially important if someone is not vaccinated or boosted, or has been exposed to someone who tests positive, other experts have noted.
Yes everyone is confused
Ms Hills, the bioethicist, said it’s understandable that many people are confused by having to make what should be public health decisions.
âWe should get more advice,â she said, noting that many state and federal agencies offer different advice.
On the Brooklyn test site, several travelers echoed this point and lamented that public health officials were not facilitating what they saw as responsible travel – getting tested before visiting family.
Add to these frustrations, some travelers say, a sense that it is their responsibility to figure out what is socially responsible and epidemiologically safe, and then convince family and friends of the policies they have developed. A woman, who declined to use her name because she didn’t want her family to identify her, said she no longer felt comfortable flying with her 2 and 3-year-old children after having learned on Thanksgiving that her own family would be flying. even if they test positive.
Rather than fighting with them over what is appropriate or worrying that the people sitting next to her will share her family’s approach – and could infect her or her children, causing them to infect her father – she will stay home this Christmas.