To grandma's house, or no? Omicron disrupts holiday plans

Dave Fravel and his spouse invited their Cape Cod family to celebrate Christmas. They shared food, gifts, and the closeness they longed for in the dark days of the pandemic. They also looked forward to a New York City holiday sightseeing trip.

To grandma's house, or no? Omicron disrupts holiday plans

All plans were ruined by the coronavirus. They feared that the virus would spread to their home state of Massachusetts, with cases increasing rapidly and the super-infectious Omicron variant running around the globe. Fravel's 18 year-old son, Colin was already infected with COVID-19.

Rich England has been there before. He refused to go on a Christmas vacation to London and Scotland with his sister and parents, as the delta variant was exploding. He, his wife, and their 2-year-old daughter, however, are still planning to take a four-day trip, starting from Alexandria, Virginia on December 31.

He said, "It would be safest to just say, 'OMG! We have to cancel'." "But there are a lot more letters in the Greek alphabet - there will be variants after the omicron. It's not possible to respond to all variants by closing your computer.

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The virus has changed for the second consecutive year, presenting would-be revelers with two options: cancel holiday parties and travel plans or find ways to continue enjoying their holidays safely. Many experts in health advise people to not relax.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization, stated this starkly in his statement this week: "An event canceled is worse than a life-threatening emergency."

Pandemic fatigue is real. While travel restrictions have led to cancellations in certain places, governments are reluctant to increase their lockdowns. This leaves decisions about who and where to visit more up to the individual.

The mystery surrounding omicron is a further complicating factor. Scientists know that it spreads quickly, perhaps three times faster than the delta version. Although boosters increase protection, especially against death and hospitalization, it seems to be more adept at evading vaccines. One crucial question is: Does omicron cause more severe illnesses than delta? Although some research suggests it, the studies are still preliminary.

Omicron can still cause havoc in hospitals, even if it's milder. It is difficult to decide how low to go during the festive season.

The average infection rate in the United States is around 149,000 per day. Officials announced this week that the dominant variant, delta, has been replaced by omicron. Daily cases in Britain rose to 100,000 on Tuesday, a sign that an omicron-fueled surge could be a warning sign for other European countries. Infections are also increasing in France, Spain, and Italy.

Fravel and Sue Malomo are both software developers with six children. Fravel, 51, stated that they cancelled their trip to New York City due to "the thought of being among those large crowds didn’t seem to make much sense."

They didn't want to have too many people in their home. Between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, typically 20-25 people pass through. This year, however, the children will be the only ones to arrive and not all at once.

Fravel stated that the current plan was for everyone to stay in smaller groups or do FaceTime.

England, an energy lobbyist and a shopper, also considered his options and decided to go on the trip. Both he and his wife received booster shots. This reassured him even though his daughter is too young to receive the vaccine.

He said that Miami was chosen because it would allow them to eat outdoors and then relax at the pool. He isn't sure if he is right. As of Tuesday evening they were "80/20" going.

Colombia native Julieta Aranguren has already begun her trip. On Wednesday, the 18-year old was in Madrid as a stopover before heading to Dubai. She planned to spend some time with her family. She said she was not considering cancelling after spending thousands of dollars on hotels and flights -- which she booked nine months prior.

She still has to face the unknown. Aranguren stated that her group will go shopping, dine out, and visit Dubai's World Expo. "It would not be fun at all if it were more restrictions."

It is still not clear which route most people will choose. Ryanair, Europe's largest airline, has lowered its December passenger forecast from 11 million to 10million, Michael O'Leary, chief executive, told The Guardian last week.

Many airlines in the United States are still optimistic.

Delta Air Lines expects to fly approximately 8 million people between Dec. 17 and Jan. 3. This is more than twice the holiday season last year, but less than the 9.3 million passengers for 2019. American Airlines expects to fly approximately 5,000 daily flights between December 19 and January 1, up from the 3,700 it planned last year. There were 6,300 additional flights during the 2019 holidays.

Both airlines pointed out that international travel was most affected by the Omicron variant.

Alex Wong can attest to this. Alex Wong, a freelance journalist and radio producer from Toronto, cancelled a mid-December flight that would have taken him to New York. This would have been his first trip since being struck by the pandemic. He was concerned about being in quarantine after his return to Toronto, which would make it impossible for him to visit his family over the holidays.

He texted that he felt like he made the right decision, and that he feels better every day. He will be getting a booster shot Wednesday and visiting his parents, who are nearby, this weekend.

This is the type of balanced calculation that many experts recommend.

Matthew Binnicker is the director of clinical virology, Mayo Clinic Rochester, Minnesota. He suggested that people take a quick test for COVID-19 the day before a gathering, or a more precise PCR test 24 hours ahead of time. Experts warn that these tests do not provide protection against infection.

He said, "It's a good thing to kind of rethink large plans of traveling or getting together with large groups."

If they make sure that everyone is vaccinated and wears masks indoors, small groups of less than 10 people are able to gather safely. They also encourage those most at risk for severe diseases to stay home. Experts recommend opening windows to increase ventilation and spending as much time outdoors as possible.

"The holidays are a time for me to think about others. Binnicker stated that this is often done through giving gifts, volunteering or charitable donations. "But this year, there is another way to be kind to others. It's to make sure that COVID-19 and Influenza are not spread.

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