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The delta variant: how safe is it to travel?

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America’s hot Vax summer started exactly as it was billed – less pandemic, more vaccinations. In the past few months, Americans have gone crazy with traveling. Airbnbs are booked months in advance. Good luck finding a rental car. Even Cruises are back … unfortunately. In July, the airports were busier for a few days than at the same time in 2019.

But you know what happened next. Would-be travelers expecting a carefree summer didn’t have any this Think Delta when buying airline tickets and hotels. Now Americans are stuck with travel plans in the purgatory phase of the pandemic. 73 percent of adults have had at least one COVID-19 vaccination, and the vaccines remain extremely protective. But America is being beaten up. The United States reaches 150,000 new coronavirus cases every day. Intensive care units can’t keep up, overwhelmed with unvaccinated patients. People are concerned about breakthrough infections among the vaccinated and rising cases in young children who do not yet have access to the vaccines.

With Americans having much more freedom to travel than any previous climb, the Delta variant makes unhappy travelers very, very confused about whether to go on with what they thought was a dreamy summer evening. For many, vacation time has turned into something far more anxiety-relieving than relaxing.

Unlike previous pandemic surges, not that many Americans are dropping their vacation plans entirely. I got a hint of this when I emailed Helane Becker, an aviation analyst at investment bank Cowen, and got the following automatic response: “Hello. For the first time in 29 years I’m offline. I won’t have access to e-mails this week. ”When Becker returned to the network, she showed me the TSA’s cell phone tracker how many travelers pass the checkpoints at the airport every day. Fewer people are flying now than in June and July, but it’s back to school again. The same trend happens every year, Becker told me. There are still almost 3 times the number of travelers per day higher than at the height of the previous pandemic surge in January.

It’s similar with Airbnbs: Cancellations related to bookings on Airbnb are currently around 25 percent, up from 20 percent earlier in the summer, but not like in the days leading up to the vaccination of the pandemic, says Jamie Lane, director of research at AirDNA , a research firm studying vacation rentals. In spring 2020 this rate peaked at 121 percent. Look at new bookings and you’d have a hard time even knowing the Delta variant was a thing, he told me. “Most Airbnb hosts were pleasantly surprised by the high demand,” Lane said.

That doesn’t mean there are any no Signs from people questioning their travel plans. “Americans seem a bit concerned about traveling,” Becker said. “It’s substantial enough for airlines to notice.” southwest recently claimed that last minute cancellations gobble up his profits, and border blamed Delta – the variant, not the airline – for a decline in bookings. (Delta, the airline, has not noticed any decline due to the variant but please just refer to it as B.1.617.2.) The research company Morning Consult Survey Americans every week about how comfortable they are on vacation, and yes, there was a humble delta dip. Just over half of the people are currently ready to travel, the lowest percentage since May 1.

The most obvious reason for this discomfort could be purely safety concerns: people may be reluctant to take a risk with this variant, especially if they have young, unvaccinated children. And with such a high number of cases, some people certainly didn’t have to give up their plans voluntarily, but because they tested positive for the coronavirus. While most of the states, except for HawaiNot asking tourists to stay away, Americans wanting to go abroad are still grappling with a puzzle of changing travel restrictions: Sure, you can technically travel to Greece, but the country’s current wave of COVID-19 has it in The Foreign Ministry’s “Do Not Travel” list was set in motion.

None of these decisions are really new. It’s mostly the same kinds of really annoying, headache-inducing safety calculations that Americans have had to do all the pandemics. But this time around, companies are largely done making our lives easier. If you decide the Delta variant just isn’t worth the travel risk, don’t expect any of the flexible policies from earlier in the pandemic. “At this point, it is up to you if you cancel,” says Bob Mann, a travel industry analyst. “The chances are people won’t get a refund – not even credit for future travel with most airlines.”

So what is it In fact Is travel a risk for Americans right now? Well it’s complicated. As my colleague Amanda Mull wrote, the race between vaccinations and variants has turned the pandemic risk assessment game even more. Undoubtedly, the delta variant makes everything even more dangerous for the vaccine holdouts. (The CDC continues to recommend that Americans postpone travel until they are fully vaccinated.) For those vaccinated, Harvard epidemiologist Bill Hanage says the risk of infection while traveling is still relatively low in many situations. “It would probably be worth it to avoid a crowded Florida nightclub right now regardless of vaccination status,” he said in an email. But there are other considerations. In addition to taking into account many individual safety variables – for example, if you are traveling with or returning to elderly or immunocompromised people – travelers also have to think about logistical hurdles. “My own family was planning a trip to Iceland this month,” said Hanage, “which we canceled at short notice due to possible interruptions (traveling with unvaccinated children is difficult if you are not sure whether they will be quarantined in time for the trip to enjoy).”

The reason Americans seem so confused about whether to cancel their trips now is because Americans are currently confused about virtually any activity. We live in a vortex of pandemic life and normalcy, and that makes for some pretty confused news. After Americans were told that vaccines were a portal to the Before Times and that vaccinated people could throw away their masks, the whiplash can go insane again from the re-masking and stress of everything. “All of this creates a lot of confusion,” says Kasisomayajula Viswanath, professor of health communications at Harvard. “And when people are confused, do you know what they’re doing? They are simply doing what is best for themselves and their families as they deal with this deluge of information. People have decided that they can’t just put an end to their lives. “

This is how Becker thought about her own vaccination “outside the grid” – a stay in Ecuador and on the eastern Galápagos Islands with her family. “We had canceled and postponed this vacation twice because of COVID, and I was determined not to do it again,” she said. “We were on our way and I’m not sorry at all.”


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