SENIORS: TO TRAVEL OR NOT TO TRAVEL

Boomers and Seniors Need to Know the Scary Truth About Travel Safety

The Delta Variant is Changing the Travel Landscape

“There are years that ask questions and years that answer”

Zora Neale Hurston

Wherever you happen to be traveling, do so safely. Photo by Sheila (Pexels)

I’ve heard the question a lot lately, what should I do?  Move forward with my travel plans or cancel?  Afterall, we thought we were returning to normal and once again we have more restrictions being placed on us.

Here is the latest notice at one of our local groceries in Los Angeles. Photo by Getty Images.

We’re all in a quandary about what to do.  We see half of the patrons shopping without masks; we see concert goers all over the country disregarding safe zones which are now linked to new outbreaks; virtually all businesses have reopened along with large convention venues, and mega birthday parties with a high degree of disregard for practicing good hygiene and protection.  And here we are, facing the dilemma of confusion because there seems to be no specific, concrete answers to our many questions.

The signals and messages of what is going on with the new variant keep changing and are terribly unclear. 

It was so sad to watch the closing ceremonies of the Tokyo Olympics with not a single person in the stands.  Yet elsewhere, we throw caution to the wind and celebrate by not wearing masks, not social distancing, and traveling by air to destinations where we simply don’t know the status of the virus.  

And of course, the larger issue is who has been vaccinated and who hasn’t and how do those demographics play into potential infection rates.

All of us are just looking for the truth about the virus and how to conduct our daily lives. Photo by Magda Ehlers (Pexels)

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IT’S SCIENCE TIME!  At the request of my BoomerGuy, who is the consummate scientist, I have included these excerpts from the Smithsonian Science Magazine, designed to give a more helpful understanding with what we’re dealing as it relates to the Delta variant.

Inasmuch as my Boomerguy and I are not medical doctors or epidemiologists, I nonetheless thought it would be helpful to share this research on behalf of the Smithsonian and share it with my audience so that you can be more informed about this new contagion.  First of all, I think it’s time for an explanation on what is being referred to as “breakthrough infections.”  There is no question the Delta variant is driving more cases of COVID-19, not only in unvaccinated people but also those who have been fully vaccinated.  

A case of COVID-19 that arises in someone who’s been fully immunized—that is, 14 days after their final dose of the vaccine—is known as a breakthrough infection.  The term implies that the virus “broke through a protective barrier provided by the vaccine.”

Public health officials, government leaders and scientists alike all expected breakthrough infections to happen.  They are known to occur after vaccination against other diseases, as well, such as influenza and measles.  Why? Because no vaccine is 100 percent effective.  

Even the measles vaccine, which is incredibly effective, fails to protect about 3 percent of vaccinated individuals who are exposed to the virus.  Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine, hailed as a medical miracle, was 80 to 90 effective at preventing paralysis caused by the polio virus.  Breakthrough infections of the flu are even more common.  While the exact effectiveness of the flu vaccine fluctuates year-to-year it ranges between 40 to 60 percent.  

Here is the most important point made in this analysis:  measles and polio breakthrough infections aren’t just rare because the vaccines are so effective but also because those who are vaccinated rarely interact with infected people.  Even with highly effective vaccines for COVID-19, breakthrough infections are likely to keep happening because the virus is so widespread.  In other words, we are constantly surrounded by people who could be infectious. 

Robert Darnell, a physician and biochemist at Rockefeller University in New York who’s been studying the coronavirus, explains the Delta variant harbors a unique set of viral mutations that make it much more contagious than other variants.  It has evolved in ways that make it more efficient at getting into cells and more efficient at replicating in cells.  In lay terms, there’s just more of it, likely a lot more of it, per person who gets infected.

Scientists have also detected significantly more viral particles in the respiratory tract of individuals infected with Delta.  If more virus exists in someone’s nose and throat, that person can expel more virus into the air and thus spread it more easily. 

The preponderance of evidence suggests that the vaccines are highly effective against hospitalization and death for all variants, say Kate Ellingson, an epidemiologist at the University of Arizona.  Those who are fully vaccinated who develop breakthrough infections are likely to have mild to moderate illness.  If they develop symptoms at all.

Previously, scientists believed that vaccinated individuals rarely transmitted the virus.  But the Delta variant has changed the game.  New data collected by the CDC led the agency to once again recommend in late July that both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals living in areas with high COVID-19 infection rates wear masks in public indoor settings.  

The information we are seeing now indicates that we could all potentially spread this virus to our susceptible families and community members, says Ellingson.  That’s worth paying attention to as wait for more definitive data.  

Getting infected with the coronavirus comes down to your odds of exposure.  Exposure is a probabilistic issue.  What is the probability of you encountering someone who has the virus in their respiratory secretions?  The more people you have around you, the higher the probability is.  You need to think about that as you make plans for airline and cruise line travel.

Bottom line:  Delta’s increased efficiency, low vaccination rates in many areas, and relaxed restrictions on masking and physical distancing are likely all contributing to the rise in breakthrough infections.  It’s what we’re dealing with in this second round of the coronavirus.

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Dr. Kate Tulenko, the founder and board chair of Corvus Health, a Global Health Systems and Health Workforce Services Firm says travelers should look into the current infection rates of their desired destinations and be aware of the potential vaccination requirements, and other Delta variant policies ahead of departure.  In other words, do your homework before you pack those bags.

The old way of travel is still the new way. Photo by Anna Shvets (Pexels)

Knowing these details in advance will help travelers determine if they are “prepared and comfortable” with going through with the trip.

Some locations may have mandates already in place that require travelers to wear masks outdoors and indoors.  A year and a half into the pandemic, it’s understandable to feel frustrated by continued mask wearing, but if you want to boost your protection against the Delta variant masking up is a good idea.  

Travelers should take general COVID safety precautions of their own to remain safe while vacationing.  Common precautions include practicing hand hygiene, social distancing and wearing protective face masks in crowded indoor areas or high-risk situations.  We’ve also included disposal gloves in really crowded places where your hands are touching common items, such as shopping carts, keypads, gasoline dispensers, door handles, escalator and elevator touches, etc.

Vaccinated, low-risk people and unvaccinated low-risk people who are taking standard precautions can most likely continue their plans the experts added.  It‘s all up to your feelings of risk versus safety.

Wherever in this big beautiful world you decide to travel, have fun and stay safe. Photo by Pixabay (Pexels)

However, for people who are considered “high-risk” Tulenko recommended against traveling ahead of their vaccinations.  At this time she suggested high-risk groups seriously consider rearranging their plans.  

My BoomerGuy and I have decided not to make our annual pilgrimage to Mammoth Lakes for relaxation and flyfishing.  For us, it might just be another year of staycation.  It’s just not worth the risk of infection, especially since both of us fall into the category of immuno-at-risk, which is the case with so many seniors.

With regard to cancelling your reservations, many airlines and hotel chains are allowing cancellations and giving credit for future travel, but be careful, if you’re expecting a cash refund that might not happen.  

I have scheduled a memorial service for both of my parents who died of COVID-19 this past January.  We have been waiting to see the newest path on the Delta variant.  So far, not in our favor.  I feel it would not be safe for my parent’s elderly friends nor for family flying in from out of state.  Except for nieces and nephews, we are all Boomers and susceptible to our underlying conditions.  The last thing I would want is to have the service and then one or two people contract the virus as a result.

Not all trips are created equal.  If your plans are a rare or one-time event, compared to something that can easily be rescheduled, it is legitimate to consider the risk versus benefits.  The experts say that COVID-19 is likely to be with us for many years, and we will all need to get used to weighing the risk of the disease against social or personal benefit.

“A big part of life is learning how to move forward.  If you look back too many times, it wastes energy.  The future lies right in front of you and the past is really only good to learn from.  Try to save as much energy as possible and only take steps forward and you’re almost guaranteed a brighter future.”

Wellness Pursuits, Michelle Hawk, Editor

Here are a few tips to bring inner peace into your life while we’re dealing with this new reality.

  1. Find a relaxation technique that works for you…
  2. Accept and let go…
  3. Unclutter your world, unclutter your mind…
  4. Escape for a while from daily life…
  5. Disconnect for a whole day, turn off and tune out…
  6. Breathe, just breathe.

Show people your kind, loving and forgiving side in an often, harsh world.

Our greatest inspiration is kindness, pass it along. Photo by Lisa (Pexels)

Thank you for your editorial contribution:

 Brad Youngren M.D., the Chief Medical Officer at 98 Point 6 Inc.

Kate Tulenko, board chair of Corvus Health,

Emily Mullin, science journalist for the Smithsonian Magazine

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