Is it safe to travel with Covid’s omicron variant in the U.S.?


Going home for the holidays just got more complicated, due to Covid’s new omicron variant.

On Thursday, the Biden administration tightened protocols for international travelers, including 24-hour testing windows for anyone coming into the country. The White House also extended the nation’s federal mask mandates for public transportation hubs, like airports, through March 18.

If you’re planning to travel for the winter holidays soon, whether domestically or internationally, you’re probably wondering: Is omicron a reason to cancel or delay your trip?

At least for now, there’s no straightforward «yes» or «no» answer. Scientists are still working to learn how transmissible omicron is, whether it’ll evade vaccine protection and how widespread the cases are worldwide. By mid-December, right around when you might be traveling, researchers should have at least a few answers.

But these three questions can help you make an educated decision, especially as scientists discover more about omicron in the coming weeks:

Where are you going?

The following types of people should postpone travel to locations with community transmission of omicron, according to the World Health Organization:

  • Unvaccinated people
  • People who haven’t gotten Covid
  • Anyone with underlying conditions that put them at increased risk of severe Covid symptoms
  • Individuals over 60 years old

The problem: It’s too soon to say exactly where those locations are right now. Nations across the world are currently sequencing genes from Covid test samples to pinpoint omicron cases.

So far, the variant has been detected in 38 countries as of Friday morning, including Italy, the U.K., France, Portugal and Mexico. In the United States, cases have appeared in Hawaii, New York, Colorado, Minnesota and California.

«One of the lessons out of this omicron thing is that it probably started way before we actually detected it,» Dr. Carlos del Rio, executive associate dean for Emory at Grady Health System and president-elect of the Infectious Diseases Society of America said in a briefing Thursday. «When exactly? We don’t know.»

Domestic travel protocols in the U.S. remain largely unchanged for now. If you’re traveling out of the country, you’ll now need to test negative within the 24 hours before you return, regardless of your vaccination status.

Some countries — including Japan, Israel and Morocco — have temporarily barred all foreigners from entering, due to omicron.

Are all members of your travel party vaccinated?

Even before omicron touched down, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended delaying your travel plans until you’re fully vaccinated. That’s especially pertinent now.

Put simply: Getting your vaccine and booster shots is the single best way to protect against omicron. The variant contains mutations that could potentially enable it to evade the protection you got from your first round of Covid vaccinations. But the booster shot increases your antibodies levels enough to provide some protection against all Covid variants, including omicron.

Your vaccine and booster doses also prompt your body to generate T cells, which can target and destroy cells infected with a virus. So, if you still test…


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