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A surge in COVID-19 Omicron variant cases has caused thousands of flights to be canceled, prompting Democratic lawmakers to push for Biden to place possible mandates on domestic travel. On Monday, more than 2,800 flights were canceled, with more than 6,000 flights being canceled on Christmas Eve, Christmas, and the day after Christmas. Nearly 11,000 flights have been canceled in less than five days, according to CNN. Some were due to weather conditions, but most were due to Omicron cases, which caused a labor shortage for the airlines.
The Omicron variant was initially discovered in Botswana and South Africa; it has a combination of more than 50 mutations. Some of these mutations are “known to help coronaviruses evade antibodies produced by vaccines,” causing Omicron to spread faster than previous variants.
“The Omicron variant is spreading quickly and has the potential to impact all facets of our society,” explained CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky. For example, during the first 18 days of December, Omicron caused up to 73% of all new cases in the United States and “is two to three times as likely to spread as Delta.”
On Friday, the seven-day national average of new daily cases surpassed 197,000, and deaths also increased by 3% to a seven-day average of 1,345, according to a New York Times database. Researchers believe that this is due to the possibility that Omicron “can invade cells more readily…[and has] an ability to multiply once inside cells.”
Even worse, “immunity from previous infections does little to hinder infections with Omicron.” In fact, “an unexpectedly large fraction of Omicron cases involved people who had previously been infected.” Vaccinations alone do not help prevent Omicron unless they are followed up with booster shots.
Studies show that two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, coupled with a booster shot, help to stimulate the growth of T-cells, which recognize Omicron, making it difficult for the variant to invade the body and cause severe disease.
With this surge in Omicron cases, the CDC and lawmakers have been prompted to mandate vaccinations to make it possible for airline passengers to be safe when traveling domestically on any flight.
While this is already an obligation for international passengers coming into the United States, it is not yet a provision for domestic travel. Lawmakers believe that making it mandatory for passengers to either provide proof of vaccination or produce a negative COVID test will prevent “a devastating winter surge” such as the one experienced last winter.
They also feel that this requirement will alleviate travelers’ concerns of being in enclosed public spaces for extended periods. In addition, some politicians, such as Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), have already made it mandatory in their states to have either proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test before traveling domestically.
With only 61.7% of Americans being vaccinated and most vaccinations not sufficient to treat certain variants of the COVID-19 virus, the United States remains at high risk for new and worsening infections, especially from the Omicron variant. As a result, many people believe that another shutdown is needed to slow down the progression of Omicron and keep citizens safe from severe illnesses, hospitalizations, and death. On the other hand, researchers have found that “Omicron was 3.2 times as likely to cause a household infection as Delta was,” so staying inside may not be the solution.
Based on reports and tons of research, the best way for individuals to protect themselves from new cases of COVID-19 infections, even the Omicron variant, is to vaccinate and follow up with booster shots. In the wake of an intense surge in Omicron cases, this is why politicians are prompting mandates on vaccinations; to make it possible for people in the world to return to their everyday lives. Unfortunately, for some, receiving the vaccination is scarier than the virus itself and have therefore refused to immunize.
Others have not shared the same fear and sentiment. Some have gone to social media to express their feelings on the issue. For example, Doug Stevens commented on The New York Times tweet, “It should have been considered (and implemented) six months ago. How on Earth are we not there yet?” Regardless of the differences in opinion, it is up to politicians to implement these mandates, which should come sooner than later, and the outcome of such decisions will determine how U.S. residents will need to prepare for their travels.
Written by Hyleia Kidd
Edited by Cathy Milne-Ware
CNN Business: Travel nightmare: Another 2,500 flights canceled Monday; by Chris Liakos and Sonnet Swire
The New York Times: Omicron: What We Know About the New Coronavirus Variant; by Carl Zimmer and Andrew Jacobs
The New York Times: Covid Live Updates: C.D.C. Cuts Isolation Time to 5 Days; by Isabel Kershner
Ted Lieu Congressman for California’s 33rd District: Dems Push Biden on Domestic Flight Vaccine Mandate as Millions Plan to Travel for Holidays; by Andrew Stanton
Featured and Top Image Courtesy of Nenad Stojkovic’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image Courtesy of Jimmy Baikovicius’ Flickr Page – Creative Commons License