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Should rising COVID-19 cases and the omicron variant alter your holiday travel plans?

Local experts weigh in on whether the omicron variant hitting the U.S. or a rise in local covid cases should alter holiday plans.

CLEVELAND — The first confirmed case of the omicron variant of COVID-19 has been reported in the United States. A person in California, who returned from South Africa on November 22, tested positive on November 29.

“The individual was fully vaccinated and experienced mild symptoms which are improving at this point,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical advisor for White House.

Dr. Fauci added that all close contacts to that individual have been notified and tested negative. Meanwhile, President Biden urged Americans to get vaccinated or a booster shot as a way to help fight this new strain that continues to spread around the world.

“This new variant is a cause for concern but not a cause for panic,” said President Biden. “We have the best vaccines in the world, the best medicines, the best scientists. We are learning more every single day. And we will fight this variant with science and speed not chaos and confusion.”

The White House has already banned non-Americans from flying into the country from Southern Africa, as the CDC has ordered airlines to share information on American travelers from the region for future contact tracing.

Meanwhile, Ohio saw almost 9,000 COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours, the highest one-day total in nearly three months.

It all comes as many are finalizing holiday plans for travel and gatherings. The World Health Organization has already advised some to postpone all travel, saying, “Persons who are unwell or at risk of developing severe COVID-19 disease and dying, including people 60 years of age or older or those with comorbidities (e.g. heart disease, cancer and diabetes), should be advised to postpone travel.”

Here locally, doctors from the Cleveland Clinic and Metrohealth Hospitals say you should take stock of your personal risk, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to stay home to stay safe.

“I don't think that travel inherently is risky because at the airports everybody's wearing a mask, you know, ideally on the airplane, people are wearing a mask,” says Dr. David Margolius, Director of Internal Medicine at Metrohealth. “It’s all about the activites that you do when you’re at your destination.”

Dr. Joseph Khabbaza, pulmonary and critical care physician at the Cleveland Clinic, agrees. “Just traveling in itself, if you’re up to speed on your immunity, it’s going to be pretty low risk,” says Dr. Khabbaza. “We know that ventilation on airplanes has been excellent.”

So, whether it’s airplanes, cars or family gatherings, local experts say it all comes down to your own situation and risk tolerance.

“Think about their loved ones who might be more vulnerable than they are and make decisions for them on their behalf,” says Dr. Margolius.


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