New York mandates vaccine for private sector; COVID travel rules start


A vaccine mandate for private-sector workers across New York City will take effect this month, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Monday.

The expansion of de Blasio’s “Key to NYC” vaccination program, effective Dec. 27, will cover 184,000 businesses, he said. Vaccinations are already required for hospital and nursing home workers – and city employees including teachers, police officers and firefighters. A vaccination mandate for employees of private and religious schools was announced last week.

The mayor announced a series of other new requirements, including an order that 5-to 11-year-old children get vaccinated to participate in extracurricular activities such as sports, band, orchestra and dance. The requirement for the initial vaccine dose will take effect on Dec. 14.

“Vaccination is the way out of this pandemic, and these are bold, first-in-the-nation measures to encourage New Yorkers to keep themselves and their communities safe,” de Blasio said in a statement. “No place in the nation has done more to end the COVID era. And, if you have not taken this step yet, there’s no better day than today to stand up for your city.”

Almost 6.5 million New Yorkers – including 89% of adults – have received at least one vaccine dose, the city says.

Also in the news:

France and Portugal, two European destinations popular with American tourists, have been placed on the CDC’s list of countries to which travel is not advised because of “very high level of COVID-19.”

►The omicron variant has spread through several regions of England and cases have been detected “with no links to international travel,” British Health Secretary Sajid Javid said.

►Seven additional COVID-19 cases have been identified on a Norwegian Cruise Lines ship that disembarked in New Orleans on Sunday. Ten people aboard Breakaway had tested positive before the ship arrived.

►Japan confirmed on Monday its third case of the new omicron variant, a traveler entering from Italy. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida vowed to take strict measures based on a worst-case scenario of a possible resurgence of infections.

►Delaware saw the highest number of new daily COVID-19 cases since January last week. Recently, state officials warned residents to be cautious again as the state sees an uptick in cases and the country reels from the emergence of the omicron variant. 

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 49 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 789,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 266.2 million cases and 5.2 million deaths. More than 199 million Americans – 60% of the population – are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.

📘 What we’re reading: For most of the past two years, humanity has been adrift in a sea of COVID-19. Now nations are waiting to see if the omicron variant of the coronavirus is just another swell in that sea or a monster wave that will crash down with devastating effect. Coming to terms with this ongoing turbulence will require nimble reactions. 

Keep refreshing this page for the latest news. Want more? Sign up for USA TODAY’s Coronavirus Watch free newsletter to receive updates directly to your inbox and join our Facebook group.

At first there was anecdotal evidence that omicron is more likely to evade protection from previous infection than other strains of the coronavirus. Now there’s a large study to support that suspicion.

The study, published as a preprint, was conducted in South Africa, where the new variant was first identified. The country was hit hard by two previous waves of the virus, fueled by the beta and delta variants, but in neither of those instances were there large numbers of reinfections.

That has changed with omicron, as confirmed by an analysis of 35,670 reinfections from a group of almost 2.8 million positive tests, indicating the new variant can pierce at least some of the natural protection afforded by prior infection. It is estimated that protection level dwindles by about half.

The study did not reveal whether omicron causes more severe disease or whether it can make the vaccines less effective, but virologist Florian Krammer at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai told the Science journal: “This does not bode well for vaccine-induced immunity.”

Dr. Jacob Lemieux, who monitors variants for a research collaboration led by Harvard Medical School, said there are signs indicating omicron might become the dominant strain in much of the world over delta, currently the source of 99% of coronavirus infections in the U.S.

“It’s still early days, but increasingly data is starting to trickle in suggesting that omicron is likely to outcompete delta in many, if not all, places,” Lemieux said.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the federal government’s top infectious-disease expert and a frequent target of Republican attacks, said he was baffled by comments made last week by Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin.

Johnson, who has a history of factually dubious remarks, told Fox News on Wednesday that Fauci was “using the exact same playbook” for the pandemic as he did during the AIDS epidemic, “ignoring therapy, pushing a vaccine.”

“He overhyped it,” Johnson said of the AIDS crisis. “He created all kinds of fear, saying it could affect the entire population when it couldn’t.” 

Fauci appeared Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union” with Jake Tapper, who pointed out the longtime scientist was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by George W. Bush for his work on the AIDS crisis, and asked for his response to Johnson’s claim.

“How do you respond to something as preposterous as that?” Fauci said. “Overhyping AIDS? It’s killed over 750,000 Americans and 36 million people worldwide. How do you overhype that? Overhyping COVID? It’s already killed 780,000 Americans and over 5 million people worldwide. I don’t have any clue of what he’s talking about.”

— Rick Rouan

Planning to fly into the U.S. soon? Be prepared for more stringent testing requirements. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has shortened the window all international air travelers have for a pre-departure coronavirus test from three days to one. Previously, only unvaccinated travelers had to take a test no more than one day before travel. The reduced time frame aims to “provide less opportunity to develop an infection with the omicron variant prior to arrival in the United States,” according to the updated CDC order. 

The new rules went into effect today and affect all air passengers 2 years and older flying into the U.S. from a foreign country, regardless of vaccination status or nationality.

U.S. airlines have been asked to collect contact-tracing information for inbound international travelers and send it to the CDC “upon request” since Nov. 8, when the country adopted a new set of international travel restrictions. The information collected includes names, addresses, phone numbers, emails and dates of birth.  

Bailey Schulz

The U.S. and much of the rest of the world are still contending with the highly transmissible delta variant of the coronavirus, and now here comes omicron to further complicate matters.

Where exactly did this variant come from? Scientists don’t know for sure, but they believe a good bet is omicron developed in someone who is immunocompromised.

Whereas most people can clear the virus in about a week as their immune system attacks the invader, preventing it from mutating, those with suppressed immunity may harbor the virus for months. That allows the coronavirus to accumulates changes that make it harder to eradicate.

Omicron has as many as 50 mutations, including 30 on the spike proteins that sit on the surface of the virus. Researchers are now studying whether those mutations make omicron more virulent, infectious and/or capable of evading the protection produced by vaccines.

— Karen Weintraub

Current coronavirus vaccines might be less effective against the omicron variant than the initial virus and subsequent variants, one of the creators of the Oxford-AstraZeneca warns. Sarah Gilbert, a professor of vaccinology at the University of Oxford, told the BBC that omicron’s spike protein contained mutations known to increase the transmissibility of the virus. Other mutations may cause antibodies to be less effective with omicron, she said. She also urged the world to take seriously the lessons being learned during this pandemic.

“This will not be the last time a virus threatens our lives and our livelihoods,” she said. “The truth is, the next one could be worse. It could be more contagious, or more lethal, or both.”

Strangers have been donating breast milk after the mother of a Missouri newborn died of complications from COVID-19. Megan Richards, a mom of six from Oak Grove, had been providing breast milk for her youngest child, 5-month-old Myles, through her illness. She had planned to breastfeed until Myles’ first birthday in July. Since her death last month, the Richards family has received 400 ounces of donated breast milk, including a donated freezer to store it. The family would need around 10,000 ounces to reach Myles’ first birthday. Brittany Eppenauer, Megan Richards’ sister, says nearly 300 emails have flooded in from women who want to donate. 

“The first donation that we received came from a woman named Megan,” Eppenauer said. “It’s overwhelming to know that other moms care that much, to make sure that we can fulfill my sister’s wishes.”

Scott Gleeson

A new study found that the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine serves as an effective booster on top of full vaccination from the Pfizer vaccine. A J&J booster, administered six months after two doses of the Pfizer vaccine, increased antibody and T-cell responses, according to the study, demonstrating potential benefits of mix-and-match boosters. 

“There is early evidence to suggest that a mix-and-match boosting approach may provide individuals with different immune responses against COVID-19 than a homologous boosting approach,” said Dan Barouch, director of the center for virology and vaccine research at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

The CDC signed off on mix-and-match COVID-19 booster shots in October. The agency recently changed its guidance on booster shots in response to the new omicron variant, now recommending all Americans ages 18 and older get a booster.

UMass Memorial Health fired more than 200 caregivers who refused to get vaccinated for COVID-19, CEO and President Dr. Eric Dickson said Friday.

“Sadly, we did terminate over 200 people for not getting vaccinated,” Dickson confirmed. “We could have used them because we need everyone we have right now.”

UMass Memorial Health has had a surge of COVID-19 patients after Thanksgiving. The hospital network’s approximately 15,000 employees faced a Nov. 1 deadline to get vaccinated or to receive an exemption, after which they were placed on unpaid leave and eventually let go if they did not get a shot by Dec. 1.

Spokesperson Debora Spano said less than 1% of the staff, or about 100 people, were given exemptions for religious or medical reasons.

– Cyrus Moulton, Telegram & Gazette

Contributing: Joseph Spector, New York State Team; The Associated Press

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Wolverines start Tip-Off with a victory | News, Sports, Jobs

OLEAN — Darien Swanson poured in 31 points and Westfield’s defense buckled down in the second half en route to a 66-57 victory over Hornell in the Olean Tip-Off Tournament at Olean High School on Friday night.

The Wolverines found themselves trailing 34-32 at halftime as Hornell connected on seven 3-pointers, but the Red Raiders were limited to just one trey after the break.

“It’s a team that can shoot it,” said first-year varsity coach Nolan Swanson. “We just covered the perimeter a little better.”

Cole Holland added 15 points and five steals, Carson Swanson chipped in 13 points, Darien Swanson collected six assists and five rebounds and Josh Barresi grabbed six boards.

Gennaro Picco led Hornell with 22 points and Hakim Tigner had 11.

Westfield will square off against Olean at 12:45 p.m. today.


Weingart 1 0 2, Barresi 1 1 3, Holland 7 0 15, DSwanson 10 8 31, CSwanson 4 1 13, Schuster 1 0 2, Rotunda 0 0 0, Totals 24 10 66.


Babcock 0 0 0, Rose 0 0 0, Picco 8 3 22, Hoyt 3 0 9, Tigner 5 1 11, Baker 0 1 1, Kraatz 2 0 6, Harwood 2 4 8, Totals 20 9 57.

3-point goals–Holland, DSwanson 3, CSwanson 4, Picco 3, Hoyt 3, Kraatz 2.

Westfield 13 19 14 20 — 66

Hornell 13 21 8 15 — 57



SILVER CREEK — Ray Cortez is only a sophomore.

He sure didn’t play like one last night, pouring in 28 points to go along with 14 rebounds and five steals to lead Silver Creek to a 67-54 nonleague victory over Eden.

Cortez scored 10 points in the first quarter, helping the Black Knights to a 15-12 lead. In front 31-28 at intermission, the hosts outscored the Raiders 36-26 the rest of the way to improve to 2-0 on the season.

Junior Matt Woleben chipped in16 points, nine steals, six rebounds and three assists for the winners.

Brian LoTempio led Eden (0-1) with 14 points, Quinn Harrington had 13 and Taesyn Slating added 10.

The Black Knights travel to Falconer on Monday.

EDEN (54)

Lotempio 5 3 14, Healy 1 0 2, Harrington 5 3 13, Teoro 4 0 8, CSlating 3 2 7, TSlating 3 4 10, Totals 20 12 54.


Woleben 6 3 16, White 2 2 6, Jamieson 3 0 8, Millar 4 1 9, Cortez 11 6 28, Feagle 0 0 0, Kelly 0 0 0, Farley 0 0 0, Quiter 0 0 0, Steinwachs 0 0 0, Parcell 0 0 0, Totals 26 12 67.

3-point goals–Lotempio, CSlating, Woleben, Jamieson 2.

Eden 12 16 13 13 — 65

Silver Creek 15 16 18 18 — 67

Jayvees: Eden won.


GOWANDA — Dunkirk won its first game under new head coach Sixto Rosario, defeating Gowanda 84-49.

The Marauders (1-0) led the entirety of the game, 21-10 after the first, then 47-23 at half, 63-35 after the third then finally winning 84-49.

Gowanda’s John Ondus scored 26 points including six shots from 3-point range, Tyler Smith added eight points with one bucket from beyond the arc.



SINCLAIRVILLE — Cassadaga Valley earned its first win of the season, defeating Salamanca 48-40 in a nonleague girls basketball game at Cassadaga Valley Central School.


Emily Anderson led the Cougars for the third stright game, scoring 20 points and hitting four 3-pointers. Andrea Johnson added 14 points with three 3-pointers, Leah Hopkins had eight rebounds and Maddie Hattaway grabbed six boards.

The Cougars led 22-17 at the break and held on for the win to raise their record to 1-2.

The Warriors (0-1, 0-1) were paced by Jillian Rea with 8 points and five rebounds; Lesley McComber with 7 points, nine rebounds and six steals, and Bella Wolfe with 6 points and 12 boards.


Crouse 2 1 5, Wolfe 2 2 6, Oakes 1 1 3, McComber 2 3 7, Rea 2 3 8, Hogan 1 0 2, M Crouse 1 2 4, Dowdy 2 1 5, Totals 13 13 40.


McCheseney 2 1 5, Hattaway 0 1 1, A Johnson 4 3 14, E Anderson 6 4 20, Hopkins 1 4 6, Horton 1 0 2, Totals 14 13 48.

3-point goals–Anderson 4, Johnson 3, Rea.

Cassadaga Valley 9 13 12 14 — 48

Salamanca 6 11 15 8 — 40


SOUTH DAYTON — Gowanda knocked off Pine Valley 39-31 in a nonleague game.

Gowanda was led to victory by Crissa Scanlan with 16 points.

Gowanda (1-0) was up at halftime 16-11 and didn’t look back from there, managing to stay in front of Pine Valley (1-1) by outscoring them 23-20 in the second half.

Pine Valley’s leading scorer was Danielle West with 13 points and Mattison Cadle added eight rebounds and five steals.


Scanlan 7 2 16, L Stevens 2 0 5, Rivera 0 2 2, Pupo 0 0 0, Nephew 0 0 0, A Stevens 4 0 8, Lingren 4 0 8. Totals 17 4 39.


Farnham 2 1 5, R Tunstall 0 0 0, Cadle 0 1 1, Hardy 2 0 5, West 5 0 13, Vincent 1 0 2, Ellis 0 0 0, Hayes 1 0 2, Campbell 0 0 0, A Tunstall 0 0 0, Dahl 0 1 1. Totals 12 3 31.

3-point goals — West 3, Hardy 1, L Stevens 1.

Gowanda 7 9 14 9 — 39

Pine Valley 6 5 14 6 — 31

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Gators rout Troy for best start since 2012

As Tyree Appleby nailed a 40-foot stunner to complete UF’s comeback against Ohio State, the ecstatic Gator bench swarmed the senior point guard to celebrate their first 5-0 start since 2017-18 and a Fort Myers Tip-Off championship.

But the message from the Florida coaching staff quickly became to shelve the jubilation and prepare for the lowly Troy Trojans coming to Gainesville Sunday.

“We don’t focus on the future or the past,” Phlandrous Fleming said. “It’s all about going 1-0 this week.”

And for the second time this season after an impassioned victory the Gators showed no signs of an emotional hangover against the Trojans — UF never trailed Sunday and held a double-digit lead for 37 minutes in a 84-45 victory.

The Gators shot the lights out Sunday, knocking down 13 three pointers and converting from the charity stripe at an 88 percent clip. Florida’s offensive downpour was matched by a stifling defense that forced 21 turnovers and limited Troy to 36 percent shooting in a game that was never really in doubt.

Myreon Jones took a big first step towards becoming Florida’s volume scorer from the perimeter Sunday, finishing as the team’s joint top scorer with 12 points on 4-9 shooting from three. Anthony Duruji found Jones for an open three just 18 seconds into the ball game, and the Penn State transfer freed himself for a Castleton feed and knocked down another long ball to force a Troy timeout and bring the UF lead to 8-0.

Fleming knocked down a three pointer coming off of his first start of the year, and free throws from Colin Castleton followed by a three from Tyree Appleby brought the Gators lead to 16-2. Duke Dean and TK Smith brought the Trojans within 10, but a pair of dominant runs from the Gators put the game well out of reach by halftime.

Brandon McKissic kick-started a quick 7-0 run for the Gators with a mid-range jumper, and a Duruji paired with another Myreon Jones triple grew the UF lead to 17. And with 4 minutes to go left in the half, the Gators surged into the locker room off of a 13-0 run, powered by nine points from beyond the arc and a buzzer-beating, Kobe-inspired fade away from Kowacie Reeves to put the Gators up 49-20 at the half.

The Gators flashed their seemingly limitless depth from start to finish Saturday, as six Gators finished the game in double figures and 12 Gators stepped onto the floor for at least five minutes. The second half also allowed a couple of Florida’s younger players to find their touch on the offensive end, as Reeves finished the afternoon with a season-high eight points and fellow freshman Elijah Kennedy converted on a pair of field goals as fell.

A visibly frustrated Mike White called a quick timeout after the locker room after the Gators allowed a pair of easy layups, as he implored his team to continue their relentless assault on the Trojan defenses. Hot shooting from Troy narrowed the deficit, but a 13-2 run for UF reignited the rout and saw Florida cruise to a season-high 39-point victory.

The Gators will look to preserve their perfect record Wednesday, as the Gators will travel to Norman, Oklahoma to take on the Sooners in the Big 12/SEC Challenge. Tip-off is scheduled for 8 p.m. and television information is to be determined.

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Fog has Thanksgiving travel rush already off to slow start

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – A foggy Monday morning at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport has caused diversions and delays.

The flight board at FLL showed at least 25 flights impacted because of visibility. Some of those flights were landing in Orlando, Fort Myers or other Florida airports until the weather cleared up.

Mother Nature seemingly didn’t want to cooperate as one of the years busiest weeks of travel of the year begins.

Miami International Airport is expecting close to 2 million passengers to come through from now until the end of the month.

“We are just getting started flying for the holidays,” said Ianta Summers, who was traveling through MIA. “We have other places to go too.”

Airports are trying to prepare passengers for the busy terminals, saying parking is available but limited and asking travelers to leave extra time for parking and getting to their gate.

In some ways, it’s a return to a sense of normalcy after travel was cut down during the COVID-19 pandemic.


Gabe Zeinoun and his family flew to Miami from Boston for a get-together and are now heading back home in the midst of the holiday rush.

“There’s a lot of people. It’s pretty crazy,” he said. “There is a big rush I guess because COVID this year being more lax. Everyone is out traveling, it does seem like that.”

As travel picks up, health officials are urging everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated and get booster shots.

“The hope is that it will reduce those breakthrough cases, reduce hospitalizations, reduce deaths, reduce transmission and severe illness,” said Dr. Jen Ashton, ABC News chief medical correspondent.

Monday also marked the deadline for Transportation Security Administration workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

TSA says 93% of employees are in compliance and that the mandate will not impact holiday travel.

Copyright 2021 by WPLG – All rights reserved.

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TSA sees most airline passengers since start of pandemic as Thanksgiving travel kicks off

For weeks, officials have been forecasting a rise in the number of holiday travelers this year. On Friday, their predictions were proven correct — the Transportation Security Administration reported a record number of flyers since the pandemic began in early 2020. 

@TSA officers screened 2,242,956 people at airport security checkpoints nationwide yesterday, Friday, Nov. 19,” TSA spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein tweeted Saturday morning. “It’s the highest checkpoint volume since passenger volume tanked in early 2020 as a result of the pandemic. The Thanksgiving travel period has begun! #MaskUp”

With Thanksgiving just days away, the number of travelers is expected to continue to climb. Last week, experts predicted holiday travel could be up as much as 80% over last year, when COVID-19 kept many people at home. 

In 2020, the TSA screened around 1 million travelers per day in the week surrounding Thanksgiving. However, the agency saw a record number of travelers the year before. In fact, TSA reported its busiest travel day ever on December 1, 2019, with 2,870,764 people screened.

Also adding to this year’s holiday travel crunch — a November 22 deadline for all TSA workers to submit proof of COVID-19 vaccination or risk being fired. As of last month, the most recent month for which data is available, 40% of the agency’s employees had either not submitted the required paperwork or not been inoculated.

Holiday travel could be near pre-pandemic lev…


TSA Administrator David Pekoske has brushed off concerns of staffing shortages, telling “CBS Mornings” on Wednesday that the agency’s vaccination numbers have “improved greatly.” He said most passengers should expect to spend about 30 minutes going through security.

“If they’re a pre-check passenger, 10 minutes or less,” Pekoske told “CBS Mornings.”

“I don’t think they should expect chaos… We’re very confident that this is going to be a very smooth operation over the next several days,” he said.

Earlier this month, AAA said more than 53 million Americans were expected to travel over the holiday weekend, a sharp rebound in Thanksgiving travel that nearly matches pre-pandemic levels. Up to 90% of travelers are expected to drive, according to AAA.

Those planning to drive should hit the road Wednesday before noon or Thursday morning if they’re not traveling too far, AAA said. 

Nelson Oliveira contributed reporting.

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Summer travel expected to surge as Americans take 1st trips since pandemic’s start

As vaccination numbers continue to rise, Americans are expected to travel this summer — taking their first big trip since the start of the pandemic.

“I think folks are really eager to make their first trip back, they’ve been vaccinated and feel safe and comfortable traveling, they want to make their first trip a big one,” Scott Keyes, founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights and author of “Take More Vacations,” told ABC News.

More and more travelers are taking to the skies

Despite Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance against non-essential travel, more than a million people have passed through U.S. airports each day since early March, according to data from the Transportation Security Administration.

American Airlines said it expects to fly approximately 90% of its 2019 system seat capacity this summer. United Airlines said bookings for summer 2021 are “far outpacing bookings for summer 2020.”

“They really want to take advantage of that spike in interest to visit those places after they announced that they’re open for tourism again,” Keyes said.

Delta announced Friday that it will debut new service to Croatia this summer. United said its flying more than 100% of its pre-pandemic schedule to Latin America compared to 2019. American also said its Latin American network is expected to be the same size as it was in 2019.

Travelers are booking hotels last minute

According to Hopper, a travel-booking app, 51% of all hotel bookings made on their platform are last-minute, meaning they were booked within 48 hours of check-in. The most popular cities among those bookings are Las Vegas, Chicago and Los Angeles, the company said.

Hopper also said “staycations” are popular among their users, with more than half of all hotel bookings made through their site being less than 200 miles from a customer’s origin. The company launched its “Stay the Night” feature Tuesday in an attempt to help consumers find the best fares at the last minute.

“I think initially there was a little bit of an apprehension about traveling,” Adit Damodarn, economist at Hopper, said in an interview with ABC News. “But I think there is a little bit more comfort as you kind of get into this new travel period with like dipping your toes in the water exploring some local markets, and getting a feel for what it’s like to be traveling again. I think that’s kind of why vacations are so popular now.”

Road trips are on the rise, but car rentals are hard to come by

Once travelers arrive to their destination, car rentals are becoming harder to find. In the past week, car rental searches on KAYAK were up 115%, with prices up 92% compared to the same dates in 2019, the company said.

“We’ve seen a huge surge in rental car searches compared to 2019, particularly in outdoorsy spots like Montana, Hawaii, Alaska and Florida,” Matt Clarke, vice president of NA Marketing at KAYAK said. “Supply-and-demand logistics are playing a big role and likely leading to the volatile prices we’re seeing across the U.S.”

Hertz said it’s seeing a spike in demand for leisure travel in cities and regions across the country.

“We anticipate strong demand for car rental to last several months and throughout the summer and encourage customers to book as early as possible and at the same time they’re making other travel arrangements,” the company said in a statement to ABC News. “Another tip is to consider booking at a neighborhood car rental location which may have more availability when airport volumes are high.”

Enterprise Holdings, the parent company of Enterprise-Rent-A-Car, National Car Rental and others, said it is also seeing the same increased demand for vehicles and similarly recommended people make their reservations early.

“Providing flexible travel dates and branch pick up locations in your search may also help increase your options,” the company said in a statement to ABC News.

ABC News’ Sam Sweeney contributed to this report.

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How to find cheap flights this fall and winter: Start now, and look abroad

Mel Dohmen, senior manager of brand marketing at Orbitz and Cheaptickets, said there is a lot of affordability out there, such as to bigger hub cities where airlines are adding more flights (e.g., Las Vegas, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and Orlando.) This winter you’ll have more competition, and potentially higher ticket prices, if you’re heading to warm-weather or snow-sport destinations.

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New Zealand to start easing Covid-19 border restrictions

(CNN) — New Zealand on Thursday said it would begin easing Covid-19 restrictions that have been in place on its national borders since March 2020.

Chris Hipkins, minister in charge of New Zealand’s Covid-19 response, said that from November, travelers from Pacific countries such as Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu will no longer need to quarantine on arrival.

The 14-day hotel quarantine period will be shortened to seven days for fully vaccinated travelers from abroad, with a plan to move to a system of home isolation for fully vaccinated arrivals later in 2022.

“It’s time we reopened to the world. We can’t remain shut behind the walls of Fortress New Zealand,” Hipkins said at a news conference.

New Zealand’s on-guard approach

Data from Johns Hopkins University show that the country reported 96 new cases and no deaths on Thursday.

New Zealand was an early adopter of strict border restrictions in response to the pandemic, closing off leisure traffic to one of the most desirable destinations in the world.

Even with this announced easing, New Zealand is planning on strong efforts keep Covid-19 in check.

Air New Zealand, the country’s flag carrier airline, has said passengers on its international flights will need to be fully vaccinated. It will start implementing the policy on February 1, 2022.

Top image: View of Auckland, New Zealand from Mt. Eden. (Shutterstock)
CNN’s Forrest Brown contributed to this report.

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Now is the time to start planning for holiday travel

The holidays may still seem far away, but if you’re going to be traveling, now is the time to start planning.

About 30% of Americans who stayed home last year plan to go somewhere this year, according to a new NerdWallet survey. But whether or not the coronavirus will disrupt holiday travel remains to be seen.

However, there are some things you can keep in mind to approach this travel season differently than 2020 and save some cash if something goes wrong.

“Use a credit card with travel protections to do to make all of your bookings,” said Sara Rathner, a credit and travel expert with NerdWallet. “These are built-in protections that don’t cost you additional money. They can help you get money back if your trip is substantially delayed or canceled, if you have to cancel your trip because you’re sick, even if your bags get lost or damaged, you can get money back to help pay for new clothes.”

Also, be sure to look over airline and hotel policies before booking anything, so you know what’s covered if they cancel or you do.

Rathner also says for families spending a lot of money to go somewhere, this is where a separate travel insurance policy may be useful.

In the NerdWallet survey, the average American said they plan to spend $1,800.

“It might be worth paying a little bit more for ‘cancel for any reason coverage.’ That lets you get 75% of your travel investment back, no matter the reason you back out of your trip,” said Rathner.

If you’re hitting the road, she suggests downloading apps in advance that let you compare gas prices. That can help you plan the most cost-effective route.

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Head start: Here are winter safety tips to get ahead of an expected snowier season

With a 70% to 80% chance of a La Niña winter in Spokane, this next season is expected to bring more snowy weather. That’s incentive in the next several weeks of fall to prepare with safety measures both for you and your home.

The long-range forecast for the remainder of the year predicts a strong chance for above-normal precipitation for much of Washington and Oregon. A La Niña occurs when winds are stronger than usual and push warm ocean water toward Asia, causing cold, nutrient-rich water to come to the surface along the West Coast of North America.

But you can get ready now for any blows of winter a few steps at a time. There are handy tip sheets offered by several insurance companies, health care centers and AARP for what to do ahead of frigid temperatures.

Here are some ideas:

Prevent pipe ruptures. PEMCO Insurance offers several steps to take now. Start by disconnecting your garden hoses and protecting the faucets with a foam cover. If it has an indoor valve, turn it off and open the faucet to drain any trapped water so it can’t freeze and potentially rupture the pipe. Wrap pipes in unheated spaces such as garages and workshops.

Clean gutters. Removing leaves and other debris will help prevent ice damming. During fast snowmelt, clogged gutters could cause water to seep back into the roof or overflow near the foundation, causing leaks and settling. If you’re unsure about safely using a ladder, consider hiring a pro to do the job and perhaps also look for loose gutters.

Check smoke detectors. AARP suggests when you change the clocks to “fall back” an hour Nov. 7, also change the batteries in your smoke detectors. However, any time your alarm chirps, it’s a sign the battery is low, and you should replace it no matter the time of year. Once you’ve replaced the batteries, test that the smoke detector works. It’s often just a push of a button to make sure the alarm goes off.

Do furnace maintenance. This can be another time to call in a pro to ensure that your furnace runs at peak efficiency. Without semiannual maintenance in the spring and fall, airborne allergens may get trapped in the filters and result in poor indoor air quality, AARP said. It’s likely a good time to change filters.

Prevent winter slips and falls. Check that your best winter shoes are in shape, or consider buying new ones. You should have flat footwear with slip-resistant soles or snow boots that provide traction, said a blog by MultiCare Indigo Urgent Care. Even a quick jaunt outside to grab a newspaper or mail can lead to a nasty fall if you wear floppy slippers.

Use a headlamp and reflective gear. Buy or check the status of a headlamp – does it still work – for short ventures outside, on dark winter afternoons or evenings, such as to take the dog on a quick walk. More clothing options these days come with reflective stripes so drivers can see you easier when you’re walking roadside.

Stock firewood, nonperishable food, prescriptions. These preparations will keep you home safely in case of a power outage or when a snowstorm hampers travel. Consider keeping your prescription medications refilled as soon as allowed so you have a few extra days of medication, suggests a PEMCO blog.

Car safety. Things to take care of ahead of winter include antifreeze, the car’s battery, winter-ready tires, washer fluid and wiper blades. PEMCO said now also is a good time to pack an emergency kit for the trunk with gloves, a water-resistant blanket, ice scraper, flashlight, jumper cables, extra warm clothes, nonperishable food and water and sand or old-fashioned cat litter for traction if you get stuck.

Until spring, live by the “half tank” rule, which means never allowing your gas gauge to dip below that so you won’t have to worry about running out of gas if a weather-snarled commute leaves you stuck on the freeway for hours.

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