What to know about omicron, the new COVID variant : Coronavirus Updates : NPR


A resident from the Alexandra township gets tested for the coronavirus in 2020. A new coronavirus variant has been detected in South Africa that scientists say is a concern because of its high number of mutations and rapid spread among young people in the heavily populated province of Gauteng.

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A resident from the Alexandra township gets tested for the coronavirus in 2020. A new coronavirus variant has been detected in South Africa that scientists say is a concern because of its high number of mutations and rapid spread among young people in the heavily populated province of Gauteng.

Jerome Delay/AP

The U.S. is putting travel restrictions in place in response to a new variant of the coronavirus circulating in southern Africa, senior officials with the Biden administration said.

The restrictions, which are set to take effect on Monday, are being implemented “out of an abundance of caution,” said a senior Biden administration official.

The World Health Organization announced Friday that it deems this a variant of concern and has named it omicron.

Here’s what we know so far about the new variant — and what we don’t.

New coronavirus variants crop up all the time. Why are health officials so concerned about this one?

The omicron variant has been detected at faster rates than previous surges, suggesting it may have advantages over other variants. The WHO says the detection of the variant in South Africa coincided with a steep increase in cases there, and that its prevalence is increasing in almost all provinces of the country. The variant has caused a particularly fast rise in cases in the city of Pretoria, where it went from being essentially undetectable several weeks ago to now dominating the outbreak in a major city. Cases have also cropped up in Botswana, Belgium, Hong Kong and Israel during a relatively short period of time.

Why is it spreading so fast?

Scientists don’t know yet, but they believe it has to do with the variants’ mutations. “This variant has a large number of mutations. And those mutations have some worrying characteristics,” said Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove with the WHO’s Health Emergencies Program, in a video statement. Scientists say the variant has a number of mutations that are known to boost transmissibility, and others that can help the virus infect cells more easily. But they caution that there isn’t enough data yet to know for sure if that’s the case.

What about the vaccines? Are there any signs the vaccine will be less effective against this variant?

That is a critical question. There are hints in the virus’s genes that vaccines could be less effective against it, and that there there could be a higher risk of reinfections. In particular, the variant has multiple mutations that are already known to help the virus evade the immune system — to resist antibodies, and avoid detection by some of the body’s frontline defenders. But again, scientists don’t have enough data to say for sure. Researchers in South Africa and elsewhere are working to figure that out, by taking blood from people who have been vaccinated and then seeing how well the antibodies in their blood work against the omicron variant. They hope to have more data in a few weeks.

The Biden administration has already announced new travel restrictions. Who does it affect?

The list of countries includes South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique and Namibia. The policy does not apply to American citizens or lawful permanent residents, but they must still test negative for the coronavirus prior to travel. About a dozen other countries have taken similar action, including the U.K. and some countries in Europe.

This is a breaking news story. As often happens in situations like these, some information reported earlier may turn out to be inaccurate. We’ll move quickly to correct the record, and we’ll only point to the best information we have at the time.





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Ann Patchett’s ‘These Precious Days’ focuses on relationships : NPR


These Precious Days: Essays, by Ann Patchett

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These Precious Days: Essays, by Ann Patchett

Harper

“You can’t be a real writer if you don’t have children,” a famous author once told Ann Patchett when they were both speaking at a book festival. Patchett, whose novels include Bel Canto and Commonwealth, has never wanted kids.

“Emily Dickinson,” she protested. “Flannery O’Connor, James Baldwin, Eudora Welty, Henry James.” But the writer insisted that without having children it isn’t possible to know what it means to love.

The full-hearted essays collected in These Precious Days are rebuttals, in various forms, of that cruel and limiting idea. The essays, even when they are nominally about something else, are about the weight and grief of relationships: with her father and two stepfathers, her best friend, her husband and, improbably, actor Tom Hanks’ assistant, a woman named Sooki with whom Patchett develops a deep bond. “Again and again,” she writes in the book’s introductory essay, “I was asking what mattered most in this precarious and precious life.”

In one essay, “Flight Plan,” Patchett describes her fears about her husband’s flying hobby: “[I]n the end, it probably won’t be the nose tip or the door. It will be something infinitely more mundane. It will be life and time, the things that come for us all. Which doesn’t mean I’ll be able to keep myself from saying, Careful, call me, come right back.”

In “These Precious Days,” the essay after which the collection is named, Patchett recalls doing an event with Hanks, but being starstruck instead by his assistant, Sooki. “She said almost nothing and yet my eye kept going to her, the way one’s eye goes to the flash of iridescence on a hummingbird’s throat. I thought of how extraordinarily famous a person would have to be to have someone like that working as their assistant.” They begin a correspondence.

When Sooki is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, Patchett offers to have her seen at her husband’s hospital in Tennessee, and to stay with them while she’s treated. Shortly after Sooki arrives, the pandemic makes travel impossible, and they begin a strange, harmonious, solitary coexistence, cordoned off from the rest of the world. “So many other people would have done anything to be with her— her mother and husband, her daughter and son and grandchildren, her sisters and all of her friends…These precious days I’ll spend with you, I sang in my head. Pay attention, I told myself. Pay attention every minute.” The result is a beautiful, nearly 70-page tribute to her friend, who died in April 2021.

Some of the essays are weaker than others: An essay on Snoopy has some self-conscious charms but feels essentially irresolute. Some parts of the book feel like excuses to brag about her friends (though of all the forms of writerly self-indulgence, that might be among the easiest to forgive). But at their best, they are a catalogue of all the unexpected ways love can look, if you’re imaginative and brave enough to try it — even while knowing that love and grief are two sides of the same coin. “Death always thinks of us eventually,” Patchett writes. “The trick is to find the joy in the interim, and make good use of the days we have.”



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A gun accidentally discharged at Atlanta’s airport : NPR


A TSA employee screens travelers at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta, Ga., November 2007. TSA is expecting to screen 20 million travelers this Thanksgiving season.

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A TSA employee screens travelers at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta, Ga., November 2007. TSA is expecting to screen 20 million travelers this Thanksgiving season.

Chris Rank/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Rumors of an active shooter at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport left travelers scared and confused Saturday until the airport announced a firearm had been accidentally discharged.

The reports of an active shooter were posted on Twitter as early as 1:30 p.m. ET by passengers as well as concerned family and friends of those traveling through the international hub. The airport’s official Twitter page posted at 1:57 p.m., almost half an hour after the chaos began, that there wasn’t a shooting underway.

“At approximately 1:30 pm today a weapon accidently discharged at ATL’s security screening area. There is NOT an active shooter at the airport,” the airport tweeted. “APD is on the scene. More information about the situation will be made available on our social media channels.”

Accounts from inside the airport paint a picture of panic as passengers took shelter throughout the terminals while some scrambled to evacuate. Some travelers claimed to hear screaming and others claimed to have heard gunshots.

The scare comes as millions of Americans prepare to travel for Thanksgiving, traditionally the busiest travel period of the year, according to the Transportation Security Administration.

Firearms can be legally transported on commercial flights, but passengers must declare the weapon to TSA and stow it in their checked baggage unloaded and in a locked case. That said, some passengers either forget the rules or attempt to board their flight with their weapons on them.

TSA officers caught a man attempting to carry this .40 caliber handgun in his duffel bag at Bradley International Airport in Connecticut Friday. This was the 10th passenger arrested for carrying a loaded firearm through airport security this week.

Transportation Security Administration


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Transportation Security Administration


TSA officers caught a man attempting to carry this .40 caliber handgun in his duffel bag at Bradley International Airport in Connecticut Friday. This was the 10th passenger arrested for carrying a loaded firearm through airport security this week.

Transportation Security Administration

In the last week, 10 travelers were arrested for carrying loaded firearms at TSA checkpoints in Connecticut, Virginia and Pennsylvania. A first time offender can expect a $4,100 fine, but that can climb as high as $13,669 depending on “aggravating circumstances,” according to TSA regulations.

About 20 million people are expected to fly from Nov. 19-28, as vaccination numbers against COVID-19 climb across the country. The TSA is expecting pre-pandemic travel numbers this holiday season and is advising passengers to be prepared.

“We anticipate that travel may be very close to pre-pandemic levels this holiday, and we are staffed and prepared for the holiday travelers. We have deployed technologies that enhance detection capabilities and reduce physical contact, and it’s equally important that passengers are prepared with travel tips for the most efficient checkpoint experience,” TSA Administrator David Pekoske said in a press release. “With overall vaccination rates improving nationwide and greater confidence in healthy travel, there will be more people traveling so plan ahead, remain vigilant and practice kindness.”





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Thanksgiving recipes that are easy to make : Life Kit : NPR


Illustration of a group of friends passing food around the table at Thanksgiving dinner for a Friendsgiving.
Illustration of a group of friends passing food around the table at Thanksgiving dinner for a Friendsgiving.

Food writer Eric Kim is kind of a Thanksgiving expert — he’s been making the holiday dinner for his family since he was 13 years old.

“My parents didn’t know how to cook American food when they immigrated here,” he says. Kim and his cousins really wanted to partake in this very-American holiday so they took over the kitchen and fashioned a menu straight from the imagination of a 13-year-old: “Those early Thanksgivings had like five different pies and a banana pudding.”

He says the holiday evolved over the years (though the banana pudding remains a staple).

Eric Kim eats Thanksgiving dinner with his family in Augusta, Georgia in the 1990s.

Eric Kim


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Eric Kim

“The kids got better at cooking it, and then the adults looked forward to it. And then it became this beautiful kind of moment once a year where the adults could, like, sit back and relax.”

Kim says those early years of making Thanksgiving dinner helped him become the cook — and the New York Times food writer — that he is today. This year though, he’s on a mission to help everyone spend less time in the kitchen and more time enjoying their food and their company.

(See two of Kim’s original Thanksgiving recipes — Salt-and-Pepper Roast Turkey Breast and Cheesy Pizza Stuffing, at the end of the story.)

Cook smarter, not harder.

“I think people cook too much on Thanksgiving Day, and that’s really unrealistic,” Kim says. “What I want to do on Thanksgiving Day is be with my friends … or my family.”

Kim has devised a menu that’ll allow you to actually enjoy the day – by simplifying the meal in five key ways:

Make ahead

Spend the day before Thanksgiving doing the bulk of your work so that the day-of you only have to roast the turkey and reheat your sides.

Simplify your ingredients

Kim’s simplified menu relies on a pared-down list of ingredients used throughout the dishes: salt, pepper, butter, dried oregano, onion and lemon.

The food at Thanksgiving is already delicious, Kim says, so it doesn’t need a lot of extra flavor. “You’re taking these ingredients like sweet potatoes or green beans, radicchio … and just adding two or three things to them to make them shine and to make them more of themselves,” he says. “A lot of butter goes a long way.”

Illustration of a hand stirring ingredients in a bowl. A pepper grinder, bowl of salt, cut lemon, and plate with butter sit in the foreground.

Simplify your tools

Kim says you can make the full meal with just a sheet pan and a large skillet. The bone-in turkey breast is roasted on the sheet pan while all of the sides and gravy can be cooked stove-top in the skillet.

No oven acrobatics

Look for recipes that allow you to cook everything at one temperature. That way, you’re not having to figure out the logistics of when to put in one casserole for an hour at 375 degrees and another for 45 minutes at 350 degrees. Kim designed his menu (peep his cheesy pizza stuffing here) so everything can be cooked at 350 degrees — which is also low enough so that you won’t be sweating in your kitchen all day!

Take the terror out of turkey

A lot of first-timers can get overwhelmed by cooking the turkey. Kim says it’s fine to just do a bone-in turkey breast. And he says, simplify your turkey prep. “All I do is I slather some butter all over it, sprinkle it with salt and pepper, and I roast it.” (Try his recipe here.)

And for those turkey haters, Kim says part of the problem is that people usually overcook them. “As long as you don’t overcook it, a whole world will open up to you. It’s delicious.” To avoid overcooking, try using an electric instant-read meat thermometer so you’ll know exactly when it’s done.

With all that extra time you’ve got on Thanksgiving day now, you can focus on the important stuff like frantically cleaning your apartment, chilling the wine, finding the perfect pair of eating pants – oh, and spending quality time with your loved ones.

Enjoy the day … with whomever you’d like

Some of us are unable to travel home, or we’re stuck at work, or we’re estranged from our families. Some of us just want to be able to double up on this food-laden holiday. Whatever the reason, it’s important to remember that celebrating with friends is no less important. Kim says it’s a time to celebrate your found family.

“For me, Friendsgiving, it started out being the replacement holiday. It’s like, ‘Oh man, I can’t go home, so I have to be with … other people,'” says Kim. But throughout the years, he’s come to cherish the holiday.

“You’re not just celebrating your friends because they’re replacements for family, you’re celebrating them because they are your family. And I think that’s really beautiful.”

No matter who you’re celebrating with, Kim says, a little planning (and some prep the day beforehand) can help you enjoy the moment and the company.

Eric Kim’s Thanksgiving Recipes

Salt-and-Pepper Roast Turkey Breast

Roasted Turkey Breast NYTCREDIT: Bryan Gardner for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Barrett Washburne. Prop Stylist: Paige Hicks.

Photograph by Bryan Gardner for The New York Times; Food Stylist: Barrett Washburne; Prop Stylist: Paige Hicks.

Roasted Turkey Breast NYTCREDIT: Bryan Gardner for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Barrett Washburne. Prop Stylist: Paige Hicks.

Photograph by Bryan Gardner for The New York Times; Food Stylist: Barrett Washburne; Prop Stylist: Paige Hicks.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Time: 2 hours, plus thawing and resting

A bone-in turkey breast is significantly easier to cook than a whole bird, it takes a fraction of the time, and it still feeds a group comfortably. To ensure succulence, you could apply a dry brine the night before, but when you’re cooking just a breast, the greatest insurance against dryness is pulling it out of the oven the moment it’s done, and no later. (For that, rely on an electric instant-read meat thermometer; it’s the only way to get a truly accurate read on the internal temperature of your meat.) I like to roast turkey the way I roast chicken: unbrined but slathered in butter, showered with salt and pepper and popped into a moderately hot oven to get crispy skin. Once the slices are fanned out on a platter tumbled with lemon wedges, it looks like a veritable feast.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, very soft
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 whole (6- to 8-pound) bone-in turkey breast (see Tip)
  • 4 lemons, quartered, for garnish
  • Instant-read meat thermometer

Directions

1. Keep the butter nearby. Place about 1/4 cup kosher salt in a small bowl and keep nearby as well, along with a black-pepper grinder. Transfer the turkey breast to a large sheet pan and thoroughly dry all over with a paper towel; get it as bone-dry as you can.

2. Using your hands, very liberally rub the butter all over the turkey breast. (If the butter is difficult to spread, soften it further in the microwave in 10-second intervals.) Make sure to slather the butter on the underside and bones in addition to the entire surface of the skin. Wipe your hands with a towel.

3. Generously season the turkey all over with salt, especially inside the cavity. You don’t have to be precise here, but do go heavy on the salt — the turkey can take it. (In general, you should account for about 1 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt or 3/4 teaspoon Morton coarse kosher salt per pound.) Next, generously grind black pepper all over the turkey; again, no need to measure this. Let the turkey breast sit so the seasoning can penetrate the meat and allow the bird to come to room temperature, about 1 hour.

4. Meanwhile, position a rack in the bottom third of the oven and heat oven to 350 degrees. Place the turkey breast in the oven, then with the oven door still open, carefully pour 1 cup water into the sheet pan. Close the oven door and roast until the turkey’s internal temperature reaches 150 degrees, 13 to 15 minutes per pound. (To read the temperature, insert an instant-read thermometer into the thickest part of one of the breasts, making sure to avoid the bone, which will give you an inaccurate reading.) Very carefully rotate the pan halfway through roasting and add another cup of water if the pan looks dry. When done roasting (1 1/2 to 2 hours), the skin should be golden brown and crispy.

5. Let the turkey breast rest in its pan, uncovered, until cool enough to handle, at least 30 minutes and up to 1 hour. Transfer to a cutting board. Cut along one side of the breastbone with a sharp knife, then the other, cutting each breast off the bone, and keeping the skin intact. Thickly slice each breast crosswise and serve on a large platter scattered with the lemon quarters. Taste the pan juices and, if they’re a little salty, stir in a little hot water. If they need more seasoning, stir in salt and pepper. Spoon the pan juices over and around the sliced turkey.

Cheesy Pizza Stuffing

Cheesy Pizza Stuffing NYTCREDIT: Bryan Gardner for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Barrett Washburne. Prop Stylist: Paige Hicks. NYTCREDIT: Bryan Gardner for The New York Times Cheesy Pizza Stuffing NYTCREDIT: Bryan Gardner for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Barrett Washburne. Prop Stylist: Paige Hicks.

Photograph by Bryan Gardner for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Barrett Washburne. Prop Stylist: Paige Hicks.

Cheesy Pizza Stuffing NYTCREDIT: Bryan Gardner for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Barrett Washburne. Prop Stylist: Paige Hicks. NYTCREDIT: Bryan Gardner for The New York Times Cheesy Pizza Stuffing NYTCREDIT: Bryan Gardner for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Barrett Washburne. Prop Stylist: Paige Hicks.

Photograph by Bryan Gardner for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Barrett Washburne. Prop Stylist: Paige Hicks.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Time: 45 minutes, plus drying bread

Ingredients

  • 1 (12- to 14-ounce) loaf brioche or challah, torn into bite-size pieces (about 4 cups)
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more softened butter for greasing dish
  • 1 large yellow onion, halved and thinly sliced
  •  Salt and black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano, plus more for topping
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 cup vegetable stock
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2 cups shredded low-moisture mozzarella

Directions

  1. The night before serving, spread the bread pieces on a sheet pan and let sit on the counter to dry out. Alternatively, you can bake them at 250 degrees until completely dried out and no longer soft, 20 to 30 minutes.
  2. When ready to make the stuffing, transfer the bread to a large bowl. Heat oven to 350 degrees and grease a 9-by-13-inch or 8-by-11-inch baking dish with softened butter.
  3. Melt the 4 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium-high and add the onion. Season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent and slightly browned at the edges, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the oregano and tomato paste and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the stock and scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan.
  4. In a medium bowl, beat the egg with a fork, then beat in the milk. Pour the stock mixture and milk mixture over the bread and toss with two spoons until evenly coated. Add 1 cup mozzarella, and toss again until well combined. Let sit until the bread fully absorbs the liquid, about 5 minutes.
  5. Transfer the stuffing and any accumulated liquid to the greased baking dish, spread out evenly and top with the remaining 1 cup mozzarella. (To make ahead, you can stop at this stage, cover the dish and refrigerate for up to 24 hours.)
  6. Bake, uncovered, until heated through and the cheese is melted, 15 to 25 minutes. (You may need to add a few minutes to the bake time if the stuffing has been refrigerated.) Sprinkle a pinch of oregano over the top and serve immediately.

You can find more of Eric Kim’s recipes here.

The audio portion of this podcast was produced by Meghan Keane.

We’d love to hear from you. If you have a good life hack, leave us a voicemail at 202-216-9823, or email us at [email protected] Your tip could appear in an upcoming episode.

If you love Life Kit and want more, subscribe to our newsletter.



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New Jersey teen JaShyah Moore vanishes after a trip to a local deli : NPR


JaShyah Moore, 14, of East Orange, N.J., was last seen on Oct. 14 at Poppies Deli. Authorities from various law enforcement agencies in New Jersey are working together to try to find her.



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East Orange City Hall


JaShyah Moore, 14, of East Orange, N.J., was last seen on Oct. 14 at Poppies Deli. Authorities from various law enforcement agencies in New Jersey are working together to try to find her.



East Orange City Hall

New Jersey authorities are searching for a missing teen who vanished after taking a trip to an East Orange deli last month.

JaShyah Moore, 14, of East Orange, was last seen on Oct. 14 at around 10 a.m. after she took a trip to Poppies Deli, according to a release from the city of East Orange. The teen had earlier gone to the store to pick up items for her family.

East Orange Police Chief Phyllis Bindi says officers are working closely with partner agencies, as they continue to analyze data and follow every tip that may lead police to find JaShyah.

“We are asking for the public’s assistance and we urge anyone with information to contact our Tips Hotline at 973.266.5041,” Bindi said in an email to NPR.

Further details regarding JaShyah’s disappearance have not been released by New Jersey authorities, as the East Orange Police Department, the FBI and State Police are working together to find her.

NPR reached out to the New Jersey State Police; they did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

In an interview with local TV station WPIX, JaShyah’s mother, Jamie Moore, said her daughter initially came home from the deli and told her that she lost the EBT card she used to pay for food.

“She came back and she said, ‘Mommy, I lost the card,’ ” Jamie Moore said. She said she told to teen to “backtrack [her] steps” to find the card.

Jamie Moore told WPIX that when JaShyah didn’t return home within an hour, she went out to search for her. She said she went to several delis in the area, but could not find her daughter.

She eventually flagged a nearby police officer to report JaShyah missing.

“She’s such a smart girl. She would not stay out overnight,” Jamie Moore said. “I know my daughter. She would not want me to worry.”

New Jersey authorities say they have secured surveillance footage from Poppies Deli and U.S. Food Market, another store JaShyah visited before she disappeared.

JaShyah is described as 5 feet, 5 inches tall. She was last seen wearing khaki pants, a black jacket and black boots, police said.

If you see JaShyah Moore or know of her whereabouts, authorities urge you to call East Orange police immediately.



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This climate activist from Colombia believes events like COP26 can bring change : Goats and Soda – NPR



This climate activist from Colombia believes events like COP26 can bring change : Goats and Soda  NPR



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The U.S. travel industry is optimistic as Americans plan trips into the winter : NPR


Horseback riders take a trail ride on Aug. 13 near June Lake, Calif.

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Horseback riders take a trail ride on Aug. 13 near June Lake, Calif.

George Rose/Getty Images

After surging coronavirus cases during the spring scuttled a much-anticipated cruise trip to Montreal, Nate Burglewski and his extended family really wanted to gather this summer — while also staying safe.

The trip had to meet a few requirements: a destination that wasn’t too far for elderly relatives in the Midwest, had strict local coronavirus safety measures, and offered lots of outdoor activities. Burglewski and his wife live in upstate New York, while other relatives are scattered around the country.

“Everyone is vaccinated, and got them as early as we could. With the delta variant we still decided to be very cautious. We did self quarantines and all got tested the week before,” he says.

They ended up meeting in Indiana, renting a vacation home and spending a lot of time outside.

“It all worked out,” he says.

After losing out on big trips in 2020 due to the pandemic, lots of Americans are making similar decisions — and making up for lost time.

“After more than a year of isolation or being limited to local activities, people showed this pent-up demand for travel,” says Larry Yu, a professor of hospitality management at George Washington University.

Kayakers glide along Silver Lake on Aug. 13 near June Lake, Calif.

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Kayakers glide along Silver Lake on Aug. 13 near June Lake, Calif.

George Rose/Getty Images

This strong desire to travel has driven new trends in the industry — some of which may be here to stay. Like Burglewski’s family, people are flocking to outdoor activities, rural areas and private vacation rentals, with less interest in hotels and international and urban destinations.

And early evidence shows that despite the delta variant and still-high cases of infection in the U.S., Americans are planning to continue to travel from now to the end of the year.

“We fully expect that leisure demand, especially on the weekends, continues to be strong in the fall and winter,” says Jan Freitag, director of hospitality analytics in the U.S. for CoStar Group.

After a big drop, the industry shows signs of recovery

It’s a big change from the earlier months of the pandemic, when the industry took a massive hit.

In the U.S., travel spending plummeted by nearly $500 billion, according to the U.S. Travel Association. Thousands of jobs were lost as well: 65% of all U.S. jobs lost in 2020 were supported by travel.

To be sure, pandemic uncertainty is still causing some whiplash for businesses. Just last month, Southwest Airlines and other businesses reported they would pull back this fall.

Still, the U.S. travel sector is bouncing back from its pandemic lows, businesses and experts say. The travel association reports that travel spending is inching back up to 2019 levels. Hotel occupancy this summer recovered to just shy of pre-pandemic numbers: nearly 70% in July this year, compared to 73% during July 2019, according to STR, which provides data and research on the global hospitality industry.

Airline bookings — at least domestically — are also approaching pre-pandemic levels.

The rollout of vaccinations has made a big difference, says Paula Twidale, senior vice president of AAA Travel.

The travel agency has “been experiencing a travel boom all year,” she says. “The domestic travel increase has been phenomenal.”

Americans are traveling in ways shaped by the pandemic

The Burglewski’s family vacation in Nashville, Ind., reflects many of the new realities. Most family members wore masks indoors and stayed outside as much as possible. They hiked and played four square at a nearby playground.

They chose a rental home — with a porch to gather on — over a big hotel.

“We feel like we can control the environment more,” Burglewski says.

“Some people in the family still really want to do a cruise,” he says, “but others said they don’t think they would ever be comfortable doing something like that again.”

Nathan Burglewski and members of his extended family made use of a playground near their rental home during a family vacation to Indiana this summer.

Nate Burglewski


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Nate Burglewski


Nathan Burglewski and members of his extended family made use of a playground near their rental home during a family vacation to Indiana this summer.

Nate Burglewski

Other Americans were making similar choices over the summer — and in record numbers.

“Vrbo has experienced its best year ever,” says Melanie Fish, a company spokeswoman. That makes a lot of sense, she says, because private vacation homes in the U.S. were in high demand during the pandemic.

Families also stayed longer. For instance, Airbnb has seen a rise in families renting properties for for three- and four-day weekends. That’s been easier because so many companies have delayed returning to the office or announced flexible workweeks.

Nathan Burglewski and his extended family take advantage of outdoor activities during their family vacation to Indiana this summer.

Nathan Burglewski


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Nathan Burglewski

Travelers chose mountains over skyscrapers

Where travelers are going is also changing. Coastal areas have been popular, says Yu, the George Washington professor, with more people taking advantage of kayaking, boating or canoeing activities. And small towns, too. For instance, 42% of the nights booked by families on Airbnb this summer were in rural destinations, up from 32% two years ago.

“There’s been big growth in those areas,” says Christopher Nulty, Airbnb’s public affairs director. Early in the pandemic, he notes, “people were forced to travel to destinations a car ride away and they were able to find that great places exist just a tank of gas away.”

Vrbo experienced similar demand for more local travel. Trips of 250 miles or less in July and August increased by over 20% compared to the same time in 2019, according to the company’s latest data.

The greater emphasis on nature and outdoor activities is reflected in the popularity of U.S. national parks. Since seeing a major drop-off in visitors in the early months of the pandemic, the National Park Service has experienced a healthy system-wide rebound in 2021.

Yellowstone National Park, for instance, had 921,844 visitors in August 2021, making it the most-visited August on record and outpacing the pre-pandemic total for the same month by 12%, according to the NPS.

Experts predict a busy fall and winter

Though coronavirus cases have been declining and some foreign countries have reopened, U.S. travelers are staying cautious and, for now, close to home.

“The delta variant will continue to put a small damper on corporate demand, but the American consumers are seemingly undeterred,” Freitag with CoStar Group, says. “And as delta cases decline we expect that leisure demand will hold.”

More than 50% of American adults plan to take a domestic vacation before the end of 2022, according to AAA.

Vrbo’s outlook for this fall and winter is also looking good, with “heightened demand” for homes in December compared to previous years, says Nancy Lien, a company spokeswoman.

“Demand for holiday bookings started picking up as early as July,” she says. “Warmer destinations like the Florida Keys and Naples, Fla., have fewer than 30% of Vrbo homes remaining during Christmas week.”

Ski destinations in the U.S. are a top choice as well. Vrbo reports that demand for popular ski spots in Breckenridge, Colo., and surrounding areas are up over 40% compared to the same period in 2019.

Among those who will contribute to the continuing travel surge will be Burglewski and his wife.

“We are making up for lost time and taking those trips we’ve put off,” he says.

For Christmas, they’ll fly to Florida for a 10-day stay. In the new year, the couple plans to visit Yellowstone for a delayed anniversary trip.



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Google Flights will show carbon emissions in flight results : NPR


Google Flights will now show users what the carbon emissions of their prospective trips will be when they search for flight options.

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Google Flights will now show users what the carbon emissions of their prospective trips will be when they search for flight options.

Anton Petrus/Getty Images

Now you can fly and take into account the environmental cost of your trip a little easier.

Starting Wednesday, search results on Google Flights will show users what the carbon emissions of their prospective trips will be so that a buyer can consider their environmental footprint in the same way they would price and duration, Google explained in announcing the new feature.

The company went with a color-coded system, with green signifying the most environmentally friendly flights, and with sorting options that allow users to prioritize carbon emissions when booking their trips.

Google lands on their final numbers by integrating third-party information from airlines and the European Environmental Agency. Numerous factors go into the carbon cost of a flight, including the type of plane being used, the route being taken, and even the number of seats on the aircraft, according to Google’s Help Center.

Emissions from air travel are expected to triple

Google says the move is just part of its overall efforts to address climate change and make it easier for customers to choose sustainability. Last month, it joined the Travalyst Coalition, a group of brands committed to making sustainability the standard in the travel industry. Among other participants are popular travel websites like Booking.com and Tripadvisor.

“It’s critical that people can find consistent and accurate carbon emissions estimates no matter where they want to research or book their trip,” Google said.

Greenhouse gas emissions from commercial flights make up around 2% of the world’s total carbon emissions, and are expected to triple by 2050, according to the International Council on Clean Transportation.

Some people are now shunning air travel

Amid growing concerns about climate change and ever-worsening natural disasters, some travelers have begun taking matters into their own hands. Groups like Flight Free are comprised of people who have committed not to use air travel, both as a means of reducing carbon emissions and as a way of sending a message to those in power that climate change is a priority, according to their website.

But the onus on making change isn’t primarily on individual consumers; government officials are beginning to look to manufacturers to bear at least some of the burden.

Last year, the Environmental Protection Agency announced plans to make aircraft manufacturers in the U.S. match international emissions standards by 2028. The move was applauded by some as a step in the right direction, but others were less impressed; a coalition of 11 states and Washington, D.C., argued that the new rules would not actually substantially decrease emissions, according to Reuters.



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Some Original Staffers Say They’re Still Happy To Work At Disney World After 50 Years : NPR


Celebrating 50 years as original employees of Walt Disney World are (from left) Chuck Milam, Earliene Anderson and Forrest Bahruth.

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Celebrating 50 years as original employees of Walt Disney World are (from left) Chuck Milam, Earliene Anderson and Forrest Bahruth.

John Raoux/AP

ORLANDO, Fla. — Applying to be one of the first workers at Walt Disney World, high school graduate George Kalogridis made a split-second decision that set the course for his life: he picked a room where prospective hotel workers were being hired.

Chuck Milam got a tip about a job opening from a transplanted Disney executive whose new house he was landscaping. Earliene Anderson jumped at the chance to take a job at the new Disney theme park in Florida, having fallen in love with the beauty of Disneyland in California during a trip two years earlier.

At the time, the three were among the 6,000 employees who opened the Magic Kingdom at Disney World to the public for the first time on Oct. 1, 1971. Now, they are among two dozen from that first day still employed at the theme park resort as it celebrates its 50th anniversary on Friday.

Over those decades, Disney World added three more theme parks, two dozen additional hotels and grew to have a workforce of 77,000 employees as it helped Orlando become the most visited place in the U.S. before the pandemic.

What never changed was the original employees’ devotion to the pixie dust, the dream machine created by Walt Disney and his Imagineers.

A Disney representative presents the three with special 50th anniversary name tags.

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A Disney representative presents the three with special 50th anniversary name tags.

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“Disney has been my love, and it still is,” Anderson said recently before starting her shift in merchandising at a Magic Kingdom hotel. “I love Disney.”

The employees who make up the 50-year club say the theme park resort has allowed them to grow their careers and try on new hats. Kalogridis worked his way up to be president of Walt Disney World and Disneyland in California. Milam went from a warehouse worker to a buyer of spare parts for rides and shows.

Forrest Bahruth joined the workforce at Disney World in January 1971 as a show director, responsible for staging and choreographing parades and shows. He was also given the opportunity to help open other Disney theme parks around the world over the past five decades.

“There are people all over the world who get up to go work. They’re unhappy about it. They don’t really like their jobs,” Bahruth said. “As you can tell from us, there’s an enthusiasm. We are privileged to be at a place where we love what we do.”

Some Disney World history

There was no guarantee that Disney World was going to be a success 50 years ago. Walt Disney, the pioneering animator and entrepreneur whose name graces the Florida resort, had died in 1966, just a year after announcing plans for “the East Coast Disneyland.” The company had quietly acquired 27,000 acres (11,000 hectares) of scrub land outside Orlando for around $5 million via secret land purchases using fake names and shell companies.

The job of shepherding the project to Opening Day fell to his brother, Roy Disney, who with other company officials convinced the Florida Legislature to create a quasi-governmental agency that would allow Disney to self-govern when it came to matters of infrastructure and planning. Roy died almost three months after Disney World opened.

Just weeks before opening, construction at the Magic Kingdom was controlled chaos, and it seemed impossible that it would all come together in time.

“It was like an army of ants. Everything was under construction. Interiors were still being put in. Roofing was still being put on top,” Bahruth said. “There was painting, landscaping. Things were arriving by the moment. It was like trucks going everywhere.”

Bahruth rehearsed performers through parade choreography down Main Street, which cut through the center of the Magic Kingdom and resembled a turn-of-the-century small town from Walt Disney’s childhood. Even though he was a busser, Kalogridis was drafted into laying down sod outside the hotel he was working in, hours before Disney World’s grand opening.

Memories of opening day

Two things have stuck in the memories of the longtime employees from that opening day. The first was the photo. It was an image of thousands of Disney World workers standing in front of the iconic Cinderella Castle with Mickey Mouse and other costumed characters holding hands in front. Two weeks later, it was featured on the cover of Life magazine.

“They brought all the characters up, staged them first, and then they tried to keep all the different workers together based on the color of their costumes,” Milam said. “If you were from Fantasyland and in yellow, you would go over there.”

The second was the parade. It featured a 1,076-member marching band conducted by Meredith Wilson, the composer of the Broadway show, “The Music Man.” There were 4,000 Disney entertainers marching through the theme park, a mass choir and trumpeters from the United States Army Band. Hundreds of white doves were released into the air, and less environmentally friendly, so were thousands of multi-colored balloons.

“It was the biggest thing I had ever seen,” Bahruth said.

Only around 10,000 visitors showed up on that first day — which at today’s much larger Walt Disney World would represent about 90 minutes’ worth of visitors entering. It wouldn’t be until Thanksgiving 1971, almost three months later, when Disney executives had an answer about whether their new resort would be a success; that’s when cars trying to get into the Magic Kingdom stretched for miles down the interstate.

“It was very clear after that first Thanksgiving, that the public definitely liked what we were doing,” Kalogridis said. “That first Thanksgiving, that was the moment.”



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Volcano Erupts On Spanish Island Near Morocco : NPR


Lava flows from an eruption of a volcano at the island of La Palma in the Canaries, Spain, on Sunday.

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Lava flows from an eruption of a volcano at the island of La Palma in the Canaries, Spain, on Sunday.

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LOS LLANOS DE ARIDANE, Spain — A volcano on Spain’s Atlantic Ocean island of La Palma erupted Sunday after a weeklong buildup of seismic activity, prompting authorities to evacuate thousands as lava flows destroyed isolated houses and threatened to reach the coast. New eruptions continued into the night.

The Canary Islands Volcanology Institute reported the initial eruption shortly after 3 p.m. near the southern end of the island, which saw its last eruption in 1971. Huge red plumes topped with black-and-white smoke shot out along the Cumbre Vieja volcanic ridge, which scientists had been closely watching following the accumulation of molten lava below the surface and days of small earthquakes.

Víctor Torres, president of the Canary Islands, said that by 11 p.m. some 5,000 people had been evacuated from their homes. Most, he said, had found family or friends to take them in. The rest were in shelters.

La Palma, with a population of 85,000, is one of eight volcanic islands in Spain’s Canary Islands archipelago off Africa’s western coast. At their nearest point, the islands are 100 kilometers (60 miles) from Morocco.

A 4.2-magnitude quake was recorded before the eruption, which took place in an area known as Cabeza de Vaca on the western slope as the ridge descends to the coast. As the eruptions continued, at least two open mouths belched bright red magma into the air that then flowed in tight streams down the mountain slope.

Shortly after the initial explosion rocked the area, one black lava flow with a burning tip immediately slid toward houses in the village of El Paso. Mayor Sergio Rodríguez said 300 people in immediate danger were evacuated, roads were closed and authorities urged the curious not to approach the area.

The lava eventually destroyed at least eight homes, according to local officials, causing at least one chalet with a tower to crumble. Authorities warned that the lava flows could also threaten the municipalities of El Paraíso, Alcalá and surrounding areas.

Carlota Martín was at an agricultural plot her family has in Todoque, just downhill from the eruption site, when she heard a huge explosion.

“When we saw the column of smoke, we thought it could not be real, but it kept growing and we knew we had to get out of there,” she told The Associated Press. “You leave, but you are also looking back because you want to see what will happen. Nobody knows how the lava flows will descend, but our plot and lots of houses in the area could be in the way.”

This image taken from video shows the volcanic eruption in La Palma filmed by a resident. The volcano on Spain’s Atlantic Ocean island of La Palma erupted Sunday after a weeklong buildup of seismic activity.

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This image taken from video shows the volcanic eruption in La Palma filmed by a resident. The volcano on Spain’s Atlantic Ocean island of La Palma erupted Sunday after a weeklong buildup of seismic activity.

Carlota Manuela Martin Fuentes/AP

Mariano Hernández, president of La Palma island, said there were no immediate reports of deaths or injuries but the lava flows made him concerned “about the populated areas on the coast.”

“People should not come near the eruption site where the lava is flowing,” Hernández said. “We are having serious problems with the evacuation because the roads are jammed with people who are trying to get close enough to see it.”

Itahiza Dominguez, head of seismology of Spain’s National Geology Institute, told Canary Islands Television that although it was too early to tell how long this eruption would last, prior “eruptions on the Canary Islands lasted weeks or even months.”

The last eruption on La Palma 50 years ago lasted just over three weeks. The last eruption on all the Canary Islands occurred underwater off the coast of El Hierro island in 2011. It lasted five months.

Volcanologist Vicente Soler of Spain’s Higher Council said “the material appears to be very fluid, the lava flows will reach the sea sooner or later.” The scientific committee of the Volcano Risk Prevention Plan said part of the island’s southwest coast was at risk for landslides and rock falls.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez cancelled his trip to New York to attend the U.N. General Assembly so he could travel from Spain’s mainland to the Canary Islands.

“The people of La Palma should rest assured that we have all the resources and emergency personal necessary,” Sánchez said after meeting with local officials on the island.



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