Flying over the holidays? Tips to reduce your Omicron risk


Los Angeles International Airport expects 3.5 million people to pass through its gates this holiday season, with up to 200,000 people a day at peak travel times.

And since there are no vaccination or testing requirements for domestic flights in the United States, the Omicron variant will likely earn frequent flyer miles, too.

Before vaccines were available, the guidance for flying was generally “don’t unless you absolutely have to”. That has changed with vaccines now widely available to people as young as 5 years old. dr Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser, told NBC that his children will all be boarding in the near future.

But not everyone is packing their bags just yet. With the Omicron variant poised to hit Los Angeles and other population centers, people may be considering canceling their plans entirely. The harsh truth is that there is no way to eliminate the risk of contracting COVID-19 when entering a crowded indoor environment like an airport. But there are ways to lower your risk.

If you’re flying this week, here’s how to do it as safely as possible.

Before your trip

The best and most effective way to protect yourself is full vaccination, including a booster shot.

“I actually think you would be insane and immoral to fly unless you were vaccinated,” said Paula Cannon, a professor of virology at the USC Keck School of Medicine. “Ideally refreshed, but definitely vaccinated.”

Even if you only get the booster a few days before your flight, you still have some extra protection.

“Anything is better than nothing,” Cannon said.

If you can get a COVID test before you travel, you should. Omicron appears to cause milder symptoms than previous variants of COVID-19, particularly in fully vaccinated individuals. You could have it and not know it. (It should go without saying, but: if you test positive, you should not travel, even if you feel perfectly well.)

LAX currently offers rapid antigen and PCR (molecular) tests on-site, but they don’t come cheap: $125 for a nasal swab PCR test with results in three to five hours, $199 one-hour rapid tests, and one-hour antigen tests at the Tom Bradley International Terminal for $80. The test must be booked online in advance. Alternatively, you can find a testing site online, or check your local pharmacy or major retailer to see if they have rapid tests available for purchase. PCR testing is generally considered more accurate in detecting infection in asymptomatic individuals.

As with all of these preventive measures, testing creates another layer of protection for you and your loved ones. Speaking of layers, step up your masque. At this point, we know that single-layer cloth masks don’t offer the same level of protection as KN95s and N95s. Get one of these types of masks to use during your trip and make sure you wear them properly. There is also evidence that glasses, goggles, or face shields provide additional protection, although we don’t know how much. If you can wear glasses or bring a face shield, you can do that too.

At the airport

At the beginning of the pandemic, the guideline was to keep a distance of two meters from other people. With Omicron’s increased permeability, two meters may not be enough. And at an airport with a lot of vacationers, even getting a foot or two of personal distance in security or the boarding line can be difficult. Once again, it’s about doing your best and accepting that there is some risk.

“Instead of having [six feet of distance] as a hard fast rule, you have this as your ideal situation,” Cannon said. “If there aren’t many people in the coffee line, I would resign. I would not compete directly against anyone. But when I’m on the boarding bridge, I’m not going to freak out and say, ‘Everyone needs to get away from me.’ I would just accept the risk of going to a crowded place.”

If you can sit in a less crowded area while waiting for your flight, do so. If you can wait and be the last person to board to avoid squeezing into the unventilated cabin, do so.

On your flight

Airlines are allowing people to remove their masks while eating and drinking. You are most at risk when those around you are exposed. So if you want to enjoy a drink or a snack on board, wait until the people around you have finished eating. If possible, avoid eating and drinking altogether. If you absolutely must have a drink, put a straw under your KN95 or N95 mask.

The air in the aircraft is circulated through a powerful High Efficiency Particulate Air Filter. The cleanest air comes from the nozzle above you. Cannon recommends pointing it at yourself and cranking it up high for the duration of the flight to create a cone of freshly filtered air that keeps your seatmate’s germs at bay. (If it’s been a while since your last flight: the air comes out cold. Bring a jacket.)

A protective measure you don’t have to take: disinfecting your tray table or your seat arms. Washing your hands as often as possible and avoiding touching your face is just common sense for public health, especially in winter, but you’re unlikely to catch COVID-19 from your seatback entertainment center buttons , Canon said.

“It is becoming increasingly clear that the dominant mode of transmission is this virus [when] You breathe it in,” she said.

After you land

Schedule a test and test again. Cannon said when she was traveling she would take a test as soon as she landed, then another a day or two later. If you’re hosting family or other guests this holiday season, have a home test ready along with a hot cup of cocoa when they arrive.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that unvaccinated travelers be quarantined for seven to 10 days after returning from a trip, but any type of post-trip isolation is not recommended for vaccinated individuals. In the UK, fully vaccinated travelers must take a PCR test within two days of arrival and self-isolate at destination until they get a negative result, which is not mandatory in the US but is thoughtful guidance to follow , if you I want to be even more careful not to infect your loved ones.

That is much. Should I just cancel my plans?

It’s been a tough year after a tough year. Experts know how important it is to see family and celebrate the holidays, especially after so many of us have spent the last few of us alone. At the same time, Omicron seems creepier by the day.

When I asked Cannon if she was available to speak for this article, she said she was – because she had just canceled plans to visit her family in London. She said at least half a dozen people called over the weekend to ask if they would do the same. Her advice was: You can’t zero your COVID risk when you travel. If some risk is making your vacation feel like a stressful nightmare, don’t go.

“If you’re super anxious and unhappy and not enjoying Christmas… I think that’s actually an extremely valid reason to cancel your trip and be like, ‘You know what, no one saw Omicron coming, it’s lousy timing. This wave will pass. And we’ll visit in the spring when we’re done with that.’”

If you decide to stick to your plans, get some tests and good masks, eat before you head to the airport, and try to maintain as much personal bubble as possible. Conversely, if you need someone’s permission to cancel Christmas at Grandma’s, you’ve got it. Flying over the holidays? Tips to reduce your Omicron risk

Russell Falcon

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