Pandemic-weary Americans plan for summer despite COVID surge


HONOLULU (AP) — A high school prom in Hawaii where masked dancers weren’t allowed to touch. A return to virtual city council meetings in one Colorado town after the mayor and others tested positive following an in-person session. A reinstated mask mandate at skilled nursing facilities in Los Angeles County after 22 new outbreaks in a single week.

A COVID-19 surge is underway that is starting to cause disruptions as the school year wraps up and Americans prepare for summer vacations. Many people, though, have returned to their pre-pandemic routines and plans, which often involve travel.

Case counts are as high as they’ve been since mid-February and those figures are likely a major undercount because of unreported positive home test results and asymptomatic infections. Earlier this month, an influential modeling group at the University of Washington in Seattle estimated that only 13% of cases were being reported to U.S. health authorities.

Hospitalizations are also up and more than one-third of the U.S. population lives in areas that are considered at high risk by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Northeast has been hit the hardest.

Yet vaccinations have stagnated and elected officials nationwide seem loath to impose new restrictions on a public that’s ready to move on even as the U.S. death toll surpassed 1 million people less than 2 1/2 years into the outbreak.

“People probably are underestimating the prevalence of COVID,” said Crystal Watson, public health lead in the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security’s Coronavirus Resource Center. “I think there’s a lot more virus out there than we recognize, and so people are much, much more likely than they anticipate to be exposed and infected.”

A major metric for the pandemic — the seven-day rolling average for daily new cases in the U.S. — skyrocketed over the last two weeks, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The figure was about 76,000 on May 9 and jumped to nearly 109,000 on Monday. That was the highest it had been since mid-February, when the omicron-fueled surge was winding down.

Deaths are still on the decline and hospital intensive care units aren’t swamped like they were at other times during the pandemic, likely because vaccinations and immunity from people who have already had the disease are keeping many cases less severe.

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“The nature of the disease has changed. Two years ago I was seeing a steady flow of bad pneumonia cases. Now we are in a situation where people should be able to avoid that outcome by taking advantage of vaccines, pre-exposure prophylaxis (for high risk), and early anti-viral therapy,” Dr. Jonathan Dworkin, a clinical infectious diseases physician in Hawaii, said by email.

In Hawaii, which once had one of the nation’s lowest rates of infection, hospitalization and death, new cases are surging among the state’s 1.4 million residents. The University of Hawaii will again require masks indoors across its 10-campus system beginning Wednesday.

With cases climbing for eight straight weeks, Hawaii has the second highest infection rate of any state, trailing only Rhode Island. But because positive home test results aren’t counted in official data, Hawaii’s health department estimates that the case count is actually five or six times higher.

Despite its surge, visitors have been flocking to Hawaii’s beaches, especially in recent months.

Yaling Fisher, owner of Hawaii Aloha Travel, said bookings to the islands haven’t slowed during the surge. On the contrary, they’ve increased.

“Even now we are still busy,” she said. “We don’t see any cancellations.”

Samantha Hanberg, who was in Hawaii this week with her newlywed husband, said the couple left their masks at home in California when they left for vacation. She said she contracted COVID-19 early in the pandemic and subsequently got fully vaccinated, so she too feels safe.

“Nobody wants to get sick, but it’s definitely not at the forefront of my thought process anymore,” she said, snacking on shave ice on Waikiki Beach. “I’m to the point now where I just I want to go back to living and enjoying life, and not being so worried.”

Officials initially shut down Hawaii’s tourism industry by requiring all incoming passengers to quarantine. They shifted to a testing requirement and then a vaccination exemption before dropping all restrictions in March.

Hawaii was the last state in the nation to drop its mask mandate, though it remains the only state to require all public school students to wear masks while indoors — a rule that will remain in effect throughout the summer and possibly into the next school year.

Nearly two years after California Gov. Gavin Newsom imposed the nation’s first statewide stay-home order, the state formally shifted to an “endemic” approach in February. Like Hawaii and many other states, its weekly infection rate has risen dramatically of late.

The new surge led the school districts in Pacific Grove and Berkeley to reinstate their indoor mask mandates, while an outbreak at a Northern California long-term healthcare facility had sickened at least 12 people by Friday.

Some Northeastern school districts have also revived their mask mandates, including those in Philadelphia and Providence, Rhode Island.

However New York, which was once the U.S. epicenter of the pandemic, doesn’t seem likely to follow suit. The city is dealing with another surge in cases, but Mayor Eric Adams has all but ruled out bringing back a citywide mask mandate unless hospitals get inundated again.

The city’s school district jettisoned its practice of closing classrooms if multiple students test positive, merely recommends that masks be worn and even abandoned its requirement that students need to be vaccinated to attend prom.

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Dazio reported from Los Angeles.

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Find more of the AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic



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CDC: Avoid travel to New Zealand and Hong Kong as covid cases surge


Three destinations — including two that had kept the coronavirus at bay for most of the pandemic — moved into the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s highest warning level for travel on Monday.

Americans should avoid traveling to New Zealand, Hong Kong and Thailand because of very high levels of covid-19, the public health agency said in an update that placed the destinations into the “Level 4” category. All three had most recently been categorized as “Level 3,” with high levels of the virus.

New Zealand and Hong Kong have both kept strict travel restrictions in place throughout the pandemic, even as other popular destinations have reopened to the world with vaccination and testing rules. But new cases in both countries are soaring, despite their largely remaining off limits to foreign travelers.

On Tuesday, New Zealand reported nearly 24,000 new cases, while Thailand reported nearly 19,000, according to the Bangkok Post. Under a new self-reporting system, Hong Kong had 43,000 new cases Tuesday, Reuters said.

Thailand relaunched its quarantine-free “Test & Go” program for fully vaccinated visitors on Feb. 1. The other destinations have made smaller steps toward reopening. In late January, authorities in Hong Kong announced a slight easing of quarantine requirements from 21 to 14 days. New Zealand has said it plans to lift all restrictions gradually by October, starting late last month with citizens, residents and some visa holders.

The CDC factors in the trajectory and number of new cases over the past 28 days to determine travel health advisories. Large destinations classified as “Level 4” have an incidence rate of more than 500 new cases per 100,000 people over the past 28 days. More than 130 destinations have a Level 4 designation.

Also Monday, a handful of destinations dropped from the highest level to “Level 3,” which means people should be fully vaccinated before visiting. Those include Mexico, Anguilla, Fiji, the Philippines, Cape Verde and the United Arab Emirates.



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Airline employee shares top travel tips ahead of summer surge



Airline employee shares top travel tips ahead of summer surge | GMA




































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Airline employee shares top travel tips ahead of summer surge


With warm weather on the horizon, experts predict more travelers will take to the skies this summer. If you’re one of the many thinking about a vacation after two years of staying put during the pandemic, this spring might be the time to consider a summer travel deal and plan ahead.

Travel prep is especially important as airlines continue to respond to weather changes like ongoing wildfires and major disruptions like pilot shortages.

To help you get started, “Good Morning America” spoke with Natalie Houston, the airline employee behind the viral TikTok video offering “tips & tricks for delayed or cancelled flights.”

Houston, 33, works as a gate agent for an airline in Nashville, Tennessee, and is one-half of the duo behind “Adventures of Matt and Nat.”

Below are her top summer travel tips:

Book directly from an airline and use their app.

“If anything happens, we’re able to help you a little bit more, like our hands aren’t tied,” Houston said. “Sometimes we get into a reservation and we’re like, ‘I’m so sorry. It’s with a third party, there’s nothing that we’re able to do.’

“You will have to call customer support, which the lines are beyond crazy at the moment, to call to get help.”

Another hot tip? Houston tells customers to download the app of the airline they’re flying with, if one is available.

“The app is really helpful,” Houston said, noting that many offer features like airport maps and airport food options. “It gives you, the customer, more up-to-date notifications sometimes than we, as airline employees, will know.”

Use a flight tracker tool.

One of the most common questions Houston said she hears from customers is, “Where’s my plane?” She recommends everyone use a flight tracker tool like the Flight Aware website and app, which shows specific details like a map and where a plane has traveled from and the destination it’s scheduled to travel to.

“It’s something that we use, something that pilots use, and it lets you know where your plane is in the sky,” Houston said.

“If you’re flying out later that evening, I would always recommend checking in the morning because you can kind of see, ‘OK, well there’s four different flights that this plane is taking.’ At any point, it could get delayed so you kind of already know, ‘OK, everything’s running smoothly. Everything’s on time. My plane tonight should be leaving on time as well.’ … It’s not a guarantee but it kind of gives you just a little bit more insider knowledge on what was happening.”

Talk to the ticket agent or airline staff.

“If you’ve never flown before or if it’s been like a long time since you’ve flown, always just tell the representative at the ticket counter,” Houston suggests.

“We are so much more inclined to guide you through the process because we just assume when you come up, that you’ve flown before. We don’t want to act too pushy or guide you too much so when people say that, it’s like, ‘Oh OK, let me go through the steps,’ so you’re more comfortable … we’ll even upgrade your seat. We want this experience to be fun for you.”

Do your research.

Houston said one piece of advice she gives often is to look up an airline’s fine print.

“I always tell people to Google ‘bill of rights’ or ‘contract of carriage.’ It just lets people know the compensation that you would receive if anything were to occur, maybe you’re on the tarmac, or there’s a cancellation or delay.”

Choose a direct flight and fly in the morning.

“Fly direct, if you can,” Houston recommended. “You have way less chances of getting delayed on a connection flight.”

“Try to fly out in the morning, if you can, because they can roll you over to the next flight, so if it’s the last flight of the night, you’re probably going to be either spending the night in the airport or in a hotel to catch the next flight, which is in the morning, so I would try to do as early morning as you possibly can because you have less chances of being delayed or canceled,” she said.

Give yourself ample travel time.

If you plan on flying domestically within the U.S., Houston recommends arriving at your departing airport at least an hour and a half or two hours ahead of your flight, and give yourself even more time if you’re flying internationally.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) does not specify how much time in advance but does recommend that passengers “allow time for parking/shuttle transportation, airline check-in, obtaining a boarding pass and going through the security screening process, which includes screening of your carry-on bag.”

Houston also said to consider adding days in your itinerary to budget for any unexpected events, echoing a tip that Hopper economist Hayley Berg told “GMA” this week.

“I recommend, especially with summer travel right now, is that people fly the day before they have to be anywhere, so don’t be flying out the morning of and you’re leaving on your cruise that afternoon,” Houston said. “You need to be leaving at least the day before a wedding or something that’s super important because you need a day of travel just in case of delays, cancellations.

”It does stink that you have to have another day off of work but I think that’s what we’re going to be looking at this summer, is a continuation of cancellation flights and delays, especially with weather.”

Get travel insurance.

“I also think travel insurance is a really big thing, especially for summer travel,” Houston said. “There’s going to be so many people traveling this summer, way more than we’ve been used to the past two years … It helps even with delays and hotels and so, it’s not just if you miss your cruise, it is anything in between from the time you start travel to the time you end travel. Anything in between that happens that wasn’t planned, travel insurance will help take care of that.”



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Spring break travel surge in full swing


RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) – After the last two years, folks have been itching to dust off the travel bucket list and check the box on trips.

Now, airports are hustling with passengers who have long-awaited spring break travel.

TSA at Richmond International Airport (RIC) said that lines are getting busier by the day. The amount of passengers flocking to the airport is approaching pre-pandemic levels.

“More and more people are flying; many people haven’t flown in months or maybe even years as a result of the pandemic,” TSA Spokesperson Lisa Farbstein said.

TSA Federal Security Director Chuck Burke says it will be more crowded than it has been in quite a while.

“With the summer coming up, with the spring breaks, with people being a little more comfortable traveling by air and everything else of that nature, I see us going from an average of 5,000 (passengers) a day into the 6,000 and 7,000 range,” Burke said.

To avoid a travel headache, Farbstein says to get to the airport 90 minutes before your flight is set to depart.

“Every airport has rush hours just like on the highway,” Farbstein said.

She says the busiest times at RIC have always been early mornings and late afternoons, but the pandemic has affected which days are most active.

“We noticed a new trend as a result of the pandemic, and that is that Sundays tend to be the busier days in the airport,” she said.

The momentum is unlikely to stop after spring break. With the mask mandate on planes set to expire on April 18, TSA says this will likely trigger a new surge in travelers.

“We see that Memorial Day, we see that July 4th, we see that Labor Day,” Farbstein said. “We expect that will continue as more and more people are vaccinated, and more and more flights are available.”

TSA’s biggest tip is to review the protocols to avoid stopping and slowing down long security lines.

TSA says the best way to avoid these long lines and speed up the process is to do your part. Those who haven’t flown in a while may need to brush up on the rules.

The best way to do this is to download the MyTSA app. You can input items you’re unsure about on your phone, and the app will tell you whether to put them in your carry-on or checked bag or avoid bringing them on the plane at all.

Copyright 2022 WWBT. All rights reserved.

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Ukraine crisis could lead to a surge in airfare prices


KANSAS CITY, Mo — With gas prices increasing to new highs and tensions between Russia and Ukraine escalating, the travel industry is bracing for another potential blow.

Mark Comfort is a Kansas City-based travel adviser and owns Cruise Holidays and Comfort Tours. He says it’s too early to predict how much air fare will go up, but the demand to travel is still there and growing. Comfort says this past February was his biggest month in 33 years and said Alaska, Mexico and the Caribbean were top travel destinations for his clients

“Fuel is a big deal, you’ll see prices going up when they go up,” Comfort said.

Even though airfare pries have the potential of going up, Comfort thinks airlines will still keep prices competitive, with the global travel industry actively trying to rebound from the economic impacts of the pandemic. Comfort said travelers are currently cashing in on exclusive deals at resorts and hotels, who want to attract travelers back into their doors.

“Everything is supply and demand, so as the demand goes up, the price goes up,” Comfort said. “They have to keep their prices competitive so people will want to go, so now is actually an incredible time to vacation and to plan a vacation.”

Comfort encourages people who want to travel to act now with demand expected to go up in the next 3 -5 months and to invest in travel insurance on your next trip.

“Be wise, be cautious, be comfortable and protect yourself with travel insurance, especially if you have to cancel for any reason,” Comfort said.

Another travel tip Comfort said is to remember a lot of international destinations continue to have COVID-19 protocols in place. He said this is why going to travel adviser for your next vacation is beneficial.

“People want counselors we’ve actually changed the name of our of our agents to travel advisers, and in our case, vacation advisers because people want to know what the COVID policies are, they want to know everything before they go and it’s very confusing and you don’t want to make a mistake.”





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Surge in rip-offs of families desperate for foreign holiday | Travel News | Travel


Which? says tricksters are selling non-existent flights and hotels via social media and plausible websites. Buyers only learn they’ve been duped when they arrive at the airport or resort.

Tourists who have already been disappointed by cancelled trips also face being tricked. They have been targeted by cold callers claiming to be from airlines, travel agents and banks who wheedle out personal information to process the “refund”.

In some cases the conmen spoof genuine phone numbers and research booking details to appear credible.

Which? says there are four more traps people are falling into which relate to holiday admin.

One appears to be an NHS website for applying for digital vaccine passports but is actually a phishing device to steal personal details.

Unscrupulous firms are also using the additional travel paperwork related to Covid and Brexit to charge travellers up to £75 for passenger locator forms that can be obtained free.

International driving permits for Spain are also being sold for £36.25 – they cost £5.50 from the Post Office.

Other greedy merchants have been charging fees for the GHIC (Global Health Insurance Card), which should also be free. The consumer group is urging online platforms, banks and telecoms companies to do more to secure their systems.

Which? travel editor Rory Boland said: “Criminals are exploiting the pandemic and the demand for holidays, laying new traps to trick unsuspecting travellers out of their money.

“Our advice for consumers is be wary of unsolicited calls and messages, and be cautious about holiday deals from unfamiliar firms.

“If you think you’ve been the victim of a scam, you should report this to Action Fraud and your bank. Anyone who is struggling to get their money back from their bank should contact the Financial Ombudsman.”





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railways news: Surge in ticketless travel in first 9 months of 2021-22; railways nabs 1.78 cr passengers


The Railways caught more than 1.78 crore ticketless passengers, and those with unbooked luggage, in the first nine months of 2021-22, a jump of around 79 per cent from the non-Covid-hit fiscal of 2019-2020, according to an RTI response.

During the coronavirus impacted fiscal of 2020-21, when severe restrictions on traffic movement were in place, the number of such passengers stood at 27 lakh.

The data was made available by the Railway Board in response to the RTI query filed by Madhya Pradesh-based activist Chandra Shekhar Gaur.

The RTI response also revealed that during April-December 2021, more than 1.78 crore passengers were detected travelling without ticket/with improper ticket and unbooked luggage.

An amount of Rs 1,017.48 crore was realised from them as fine, it said.

Sources indicated that one of the major reasons for such a surge in ticketless travel is the fact that even now, when most of the Covid restrictions have been lifted, many express and superfast trains have only online booking and limited services. ‘

As for the 2019-2020 fiscal, which was not impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, 1.10 crore people were caught travelling ticketless and a total fine of Rs 561.73 crore was recovered from them.

Between April 2020 and March 2021 i.e. 2020-21 fiscal, 27.57 lakh people were caught travelling ticketless and Rs 143.82 crore was levied as fine on them.

Passengers have also complained that there was a demand-supply mismatch as far as train services are concerned.

In fact, according to data provided by the Railways, over 52 lakh people who were on the waitlist after finalisation of seat reservation charts could not travel by trains in the first six months of the current fiscal, indicating a need for more trains on busy routes.

Till September of the financial year 2021-2022, 32,50,039 PNRs (passenger name records), against which 52,96,741 passengers had bookings, were auto-cancelled as they were in the waitlist status after the preparation of the charts,

“The problem is that after the severe restrictions on travel over the last two years, people are now travelling more and more. Some because of emergencies and many more for leisures. While the number of travellers has increased, the number of trains, their frequencies have remained the same. We have introduced clone trains and things will get better,” said an official.

According to Railways data, there has been a significant increase in the number of passengers availing train services from 2019-2020 to 2021-22.

In October 2019, when regular train services were in operation, the number of passengers who travelled by trains was 4.40 crore. In September 2021, with an improvement in the COVID-19 situation, the number rose to almost seven crore.

The RTI also said that during April 2021 to December 2021, the overall occupancy of reserved accommodation was 99.65 per cent.



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