‘A lot of uncertainty’: COVID-19 surge puts many Americans on edge about travelling

Written By: Giulia Heyward © 2021 The New York Times Company The New York Times
Washington Published: Dec 20, 2021, 11:49 PM(IST)

Travellers walk through John F. Kennedy airport in New York City Photograph:( AFP )

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On Sunday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said that it was OK for Americans to travel and gather, but he strongly emphasised that people take precautions.

Across the nation, COVID-19 cases are surging and the omicron variant is spreading, throwing the scheduling of schools, concerts and sports leagues into question. Just days away from a holiday weekend, Americans are also grappling with whether to change their traveling or gathering plans.

Millions are forging ahead, but, for many, a sense of unease has crept in.

“My entire family is pretty uncertain about what to do there, what the rules should be,” said Max Farmer, 24, who lives in San Francisco. “With omicron, there’s just a lot of uncertainty.”

Farmer has plans to go to Minnesota this month and see his family for the first time in three years. But he said he was worried about the possibility of getting them sick, particularly a sister who was pregnant.

“It’s definitely something that goes through your head while you’re travelling,” he said.

More than 109 million Americans are expected to travel between Dec. 23 and Jan. 2, a 34% increase from last year, according to AAA. The number of airline passengers alone is projected to rise 184% from last year.

On Sunday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said that it was OK for Americans to travel and gather, but he strongly emphasised that people take precautions.

“If you’re vaccinated and you’re boosted, and you take care when you go into congregate settings like airports to make sure you continually wear your mask, you should be OK,” Fauci said on “Meet the Press” on NBC. He urged air travellers to remain masked during flights.

Caiden Nason, a political campaigner in San Francisco, said he would be flying to see family in rural Southern California. “I’m a little nervous,” he said. But he added: “I just got tested today. My parents will all get tested, too. I will double mask on the aeroplane.”

Sally Avery, a native of Columbus, Ohio, who now lives in France, was in Cleveland to visit her daughter. She said the uncertainty over the COVID-19 surge caused her to leave early and miss the holidays with her daughter. If France went into lockdown, she said at Hopkins International Airport in Cleveland, “I could be here for a long time, and I can’t do that.”

Monica Neal of Smyrna, Georgia, took a trip to South Africa on Thanksgiving, but she said she ended up getting stuck there for days because of the omicron variant. She cancelled a trip to Europe this month.

“I have travelled internationally twice this year, and I’ve fortunately been very safe and very healthy,” she said. “I didn’t want to push that luck.”

Many others said they had no plans to adjust. Blake Howe, a software engineer in Roswell, Georgia, said he was going on a cruise in January for his 30th birthday. He planned the trip months ago and received his shots and the booster.

Howe said he knew that cruise liners had been breeding grounds for COVID-19 in the past, but he’s not concerned this time. “They’re requiring full vaccination, as well as the booster,” he said, adding that “they’re at reduced capacity on the ship.”

Some who were interviewed weren’t planning to travel anywhere — and were happy to stay put.

“I wouldn’t want to go anywhere right now,” said Monica Rokes, a 69-year-old retired bank teller in Camden, Maine, who was shopping in the town of Rockland. She said she had started taking more precautions in recent days — washing her hands more often, using hand sanitiser, avoiding large crowds and groups of people, and wearing her mask.

“It’s very frightening,” she said of the recent surge. “I’m doing everything I can do to stay safe.”

For those planning to attend large gatherings, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is still recommending that everyone get vaccinated before getting together with multiple generations of the same family. For indoor gatherings, the CDC is asking people to consider taking an at-home rapid test beforehand.

Eugene DeMarco, 35, who has a bakery stand at the West Side Market in Cleveland, said that his family typically had a big holiday get-together and that this year would be no different.

“We aren’t concerned at all,” said DeMarco, who is unvaccinated and was not wearing a mask. “About 60 or so of our family will be getting together. The COVID-19 infections are the reality, and you have to get used to it. Can’t be driven by fear.”

J’Rycee Johnson, a 20-year-old in Baltimore who works for a T-shirt company, said that he didn’t have extensive plans but that nothing was changing for him, either, adding that he was unconcerned by the virus.

“I don’t take vaccines at all,” he said, citing his spiritual belief that God heals. “That’s basically what it comes down to for me.”

In Springfield, Missouri, Mary Ann Johnson, 57, is looking forward to celebrating with her family on Christmas Eve, even though she’s aware that the omicron variant is spreading quickly.

She worries about contracting the virus from the general public or from clients at her workplace; she works with individuals who have been arrested in connection with impaired driving. But she said she felt comfortable with just her family: “all three of my kids, all five of the grandsons and two foster grandsons.”

Still, Johnson is making one adjustment: No hugs or kisses, she said.

“My daughter-in-law has lupus, so we are extremely cautious with her,” Johnson said. She added: “We all know how we feel. With the virus, that’s good enough.”

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