Omicron and Holiday Travel: How to Strategize

She wanted to be a responsible traveler, but it was difficult.

At least seven people in Brooklyn tested positive for the coronaviruses and Ms. Allen knew about it. She had not seen them in person. She canceled her Saturday morning flight to Jacksonville, Fla., where she was going to see her parents and grandparents, after developing an intense headaches and a sore nose on Friday.

Two home tests came back negative. Ms. Allen wanted more official assurance before she re booked her trip. The employee at the urgent care clinic in Crown Heights told the 30 or so people waiting for tests that they would have to come back at 8 a.m.

Ms. Allen left the clinic with a plan to return the next day.

The holiday travel rush appears unstoppable even as the number of coronaviruses is increasing in some parts of the country. On Friday, Los Angeles International Airport reported its busiest day since early 2020, and on Sunday, 2.1 million people passed through airports in the United States, nearly twice as many as this time last year.

It has never been more difficult for those who are determined to keep their travel plans. Testing has been hard to get in hard-hit cities like New York. Many people plan to stay in a house with their friends and family, which is a key challenge. They are learning that vaccination is not a guarantee that they won't get sick. What can travelers do?

According to the CDC, only one in six Americans have received a booster. Those who received a booster are more likely to test positive than those who did not.

If you plan to travel over the coming weeks and months, and you are already fully vaccineed, it is a good idea to get a booster.

The optimal immune response comes about two weeks after the booster, according to Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr, a professor of epidemiology and medicine at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health in New York. Many will see some protection within a few days, so getting a third shot today could still benefit those traveling over the holidays.

Kelly Hills, a co-founder of Rogue Bioethics, a consulting firm in Boston, advises thinking about moral injury and asking if you are mentally prepared for the consequences if you spread a disease.

It doesn't have to translate into canceling plans, but it may encourage you to wear an N95 instead of a homemade mask on a plane or take a test even though it's a hassle. If you are indoors and surrounded by many people in the days leading up to the trip, you may want to book a separate house or motel room instead of staying with family or friends.

Leonard J. Marcus is the co-director of the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative at Harvard University and the director of an initiative focused on public health on flights.

Dr. Marcus advises parents not to fly with unvaccinated children until more is known about Omicron, as he is not aware of any data suggesting children are likely to become infectious on planes.

He said he would delay it if it were his grandsons. If someone is wearing a proper mask on a plane, the risk of them being bitten by a bug should be low.

The nation's top infectious disease official told CNBC that he feels safe having his adult children fly to see him over the holidays. He said that they are vaccine free.

Experts recommend getting tested as close to the gathering as possible. Double-check the results with a more accurate P.C.R. test if the at- home test is positive. Above, getting tested.

Testing is difficult in many parts of the country.

Mary Mathurin said that it was a 10 on a scale of hard. As she waited for her name to be called, her cellphone played hold music from a call with another facility that had yet to send her P.C.R. results. The call ended after 70 minutes. A few minutes later, the patient care assistant at the Brooklyn site told her the site couldn't accommodate her. She was not sure what she was going to do the next day.

Many online retailers have sold out of at- home tests. 500 million free at- home tests will be made available by the White House. Several experts said to use the kit as close to your departure date as possible.

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The closer you are to the event, the better it will be, said Dr. Lin H. Chen, a professor at Harvard Medical School and the director of the Mount Auburn Hospital Travel Medicine Center.

Dr. Chen suggested taking an at- home test on the day of the gathering. She advised not to go to the event if a person tests positive, and to get a P.C.R. test for confirmation. If people are staying in a house together for a long time, it's a good idea to periodically test. This is important if someone has not been given a vaccine, or if someone has tested positive for a disease.

Ms. Hills said that it is understandable that people are confused about public health decisions.

She said that many state and federal agencies offer different advice.

Several travelers at the Brooklyn testing site complained that public health authorities were not making it easier to get tested before travelling.

Some travelers said that the burden is on them to figure out what is socially responsible and epidemiologically safe and then convince their family and friends of the policies they have come up with. One woman who didn't want her family to identify her, said that she no longer feels comfortable flying with her children after learning that her own family members would fly even if they tested positive.

She is going to stay home for Christmas because she doesn't want to fight with them about what's appropriate or worry that the people sitting next to her could cause her father to get a STD.