With Omicron on the rise, should you stick to your vacation travel plans?

Travelers are again faced with difficult questions about whether to travel as the Omicron variant spreads across the world.

The variant is currently pushing record daily cases in the UK and alongside the Delta variant is increasing the number of cases in the US. The wave brings new restrictions, including rules on indoor masks in New York and California.

Over 109 million people are expected to travel for vacation this year, 92% of 2019 levels, according to AAA. With increased concerns, some of these travelers are wondering if they should stick to their vacation plans.

Many doctors say yes, so far. They and those who study viral transmission say travel is relatively safe for people who are fully vaccinated and have been boosted. Flight and hotel cancellation policies are generally in line with what they have been in recent months. They can include vouchers for canceled flights or partial refunds for hotels, but it really depends on what you’ve booked.

“This virus is going to be with us for a very long time, maybe forever. We have to do what gives us joy, ”says Robert Wachter, director of the Department of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. “I cannot guarantee that the next Christmas will be better than this Christmas.”

What are the risks of traveling?

The main factors in determining your risk while traveling include: your age and vulnerability to the virus, the type of activities you plan to do, whether they will be indoors, outdoors and how crowded it is .

You should also weigh how many Covid-19s there are in the area and how much of this virus is the most transmissible Omicron variant. Finally, how important is the trip or activity: will you, for example, see a site or will you visit parents and grandparents?

A kiosk at the Sacramento International Airport last week. The Omicron wave brings new restrictions, including rules on indoor masks in California.


Image from Sport / Zuma Press

Some of these factors increase your risk of contracting Covid-19, while others put you at greater risk if you catch it.

Researchers have designed several risk calculators that can help with the decision. That one developed by the Brown-Lifespan Center for Digital Health at Brown University allows you to plug in many factors to estimate the risk of various activities, such as shopping or meeting with friends, in different locations in the United States Another calculator, developed by researchers, including at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Stanford University and Duke University, helps assess risks nationally and globally.

When considering the risks of a particular destination, Dr Wachter says travelers should take a break if there are 10 reported cases per 100,000. It may not seem like much, he says, but the real number is. probably much higher because many cases are asymptomatic and many more go unreported because they are detected at home with rapid tests.

If you haven’t received a booster, you should get one today, advises Dr Wachter. This will give you a lot more protection by the next week, when many are planning to travel. If you only had two injections, he said, “I would consider myself partially vaccinated.”

Can I get a refund for my flight?

Check your airline’s policy. Many airlines have waived change fees, giving travelers more flexibility to defer. But travelers will still have to pay for any fare difference for a new ticket.

If the airline cancels your flight, you are entitled to a refund, according to the US Department of Transportation. If you cancel a ticket, you will likely receive a voucher to use for future travel by a certain date. Each airline has a different policy, and it also depends on the fare class.

Canceled and delayed flights, long lines and crowded planes have become the new normal for air travel. WSJ reporter Alison Sider explains the reasons for airline disruptions and the ripple effects for passengers planning to travel while on vacation. Photo: Daniel Slim / Getty Images

Delta Air Lines allows passengers with Basic Economy Class tickets traveling through December 31 to make changes free of charge. American Airlines Base Economy Fares purchased on or after April 1 are non-refundable and non-changeable.

Airlines specify that you must make changes to the flight before departure. If you don’t show up and don’t make any changes, you will likely lose the value of your ticket, according to airline policies.

Some airlines allow you to make changes until the last minute. Southwest Airlines customers can cancel any ticket at least 10 minutes before departure and keep the amount paid as credit for future travel.

Can I cancel my hotel?

Travel counselors suggest that you review the booking conditions from the time you make the booking.

Many hotels have flexible policies in place during the pandemic, with some allowing guests to cancel up to 24 hours before arrival. These policies generally apply to people who have booked directly through the hotel. If you booked through a third party, such as a travel site, your credit card may be charged prior to arrival and the reservation may not be refundable.

Travel counselors say you need to keep an eye out for cancellation windows. During the holiday season, some types of accommodation have stricter policies and often need to be canceled longer in advance, such as private villas, says Victoria Zindell, owner of Corona del Mar-based Luxury Ventures Travel in California.

Should I stick to travel plans abroad?

Do your research. Chances of getting sick increase in places where Covid-19 is on the rise, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently updated its list of foreign countries it advises Americans to avoid, ranking Italy and France as “level four”, the highest designation.

The chances of getting stuck in a destination if you test positive are also not zero.

The State Department advises international travelers to develop contingency plans in case foreign governments implement restrictions such as quarantines and border closures with little notice.

Many countries are rapidly changing the requirements for the Covid-19 tests needed for entry. If you are planning to travel, even though testing is not yet required, you should make an appointment before you go so you don’t scramble to find a test at the last minute, Zindell says.

And make sure your health insurance covers you abroad, says Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease doctor and professor of medicine at UCSF.

What happens if I test positive while outside the United States?

It depends on where you have traveled and where you are staying. Typically, if you get a positive result on a rapid antigen test, you’ll need to take a PCR test, says Christine Hardenberger, owner of Modern Travel Professionals, a travel agency based in Fredericksburg, Virginia. If the PCR test comes back positive, you will receive quarantine instructions.

Typically, these restrictions mean that you must stay in your room where food will be delivered to you, if you are in a resort. But you cannot return to the United States, as you must show a negative test or recovery documents before boarding your flight.

Caribbean countries generally require travelers to quarantine between 10 days and 14 days. Many resorts allow travelers to self-quarantine for free by not charging for extra nights, says Hardenberger. Some destinations, like the Turks and Caicos Islands, require travelers to have travel insurance that will cover medical costs related to Covid-19. Ms. Hardenberger recommends that all travelers have insurance, whether compulsory or not.

Quarantine requirements in European countries vary and can add significant expense to your trip. If you test positive just before you leave Spain, for example, health officials will tell you to self-isolate for at least seven days at a local hotel at your own expense, according to the U.S. Embassy in Spain website.

How soon can I return home from an international destination after testing positive?

It depends on the quarantine rules in the country you have traveled to.

When you check in for your flight, airlines typically ask questions about your exposure to Covid-19 over the past 10 days and ask passengers to confirm that they have not recently exhibited symptoms. Travelers returning to the United States by air must provide a negative Covid-19 test result within one day of departure.

If your test is still positive because you’ve recently recovered from Covid-19, you can travel with proof of recovery instead. This includes a positive Covid-19 viral test result taken no more than 90 days before the flight departs from a foreign country, as well as a letter from a licensed healthcare provider or health official. public authorizing you to travel, according to the CDC.

What should I do if I test positive while traveling to the United States?

Prepare for the possibility of you falling ill, doctors say.

If this happens, the CDC recommends a quarantine that can end after seven days once a person tests negative and has no symptoms. For those who don’t have access to a test, the CDC recommends a 10-day quarantine.

It’s a bad idea to go home if you’re sick with Covid-19, said John Volckens, professor of environmental health and aerosol scientist at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colo., Because you could get sicker from it. traveling. “It’s like driving while intoxicated,” he said.

But if you have to come home, it’s better to drive than fly and you’re fine as long as you’re not with other people, says Dr Wachter.

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