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Travel if you like, but take precautions because: 'It's never fun to be sick on vacation'

Dr. Bruce Farber, of North Shore University Hospital

Dr. Bruce Farber, of North Shore University Hospital and Long Island Jewish Medical Center, says to travelers: "You don't want to get COVID at home, but you really don't want to get it in Italy, Turkey or a national park someplace." Credit: Danielle Silverman

Health experts are warning summer travelers to keep their guard up as new COVID-19 cases tick up around the country, vaccination rates stall and the highly contagious delta variant spreads across the globe.

The highways and airports are filled with travelers, as about 77% of Americans said they plan to take a trip this summer, according to a Harris Poll requested by a coalition of travel companies and organizations. Those vacationers should avoid states — and countries — where fewer people are vaccinated and positivity rates are increasing, medical experts said.

"I wouldn’t go to Missouri, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi or Montana, where vaccination rates are very low compared with the rest of the country," said Dr. Bruce Farber, chief public health and epidemiology officer at Northwell Health and chief of infectious diseases at North Shore University Hospital and Long Island Jewish Medical Center.

What to know

More people are traveling in the United States and abroad now that many pandemic restrictions have been lifted.

Health experts caution unvaccinated people to limit where they travel and take precautions. Even fully vaccinated people, especially those traveling with young unvaccinated children, should still take steps to protect themselves from COVID-19.

The delta variant is the dominant strain in the country and is more easily transmissible than other variants.

Alabama has the lowest vaccination rate in the United States, with 33.61% of the eligible population fully inoculated against COVID-19, according to the Johns Hopkins University of Medicine Coronavirus Resource Center. In New York State, 55.22% is fully vaccinated, while the overall average in the country is about 48%, statistics from Johns Hopkins show.

Outside of the United States, some places are still off limits to tourists, including Canada, which is only allowing foreign nationals to cross its borders to reunite with family, attend funerals and other select circumstances. Travel to the United Kingdom from the United States is filled with restrictions, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued an advisory because of the high number of COVID-19 cases there.

"The guidelines for each country are changing rapidly," said Michelle Grano, New York State network manager for Liberty Travel who works out of Levittown.

Positivity rates have been going up across the globe because of the delta variant, a more easily transmissible strain first discovered in India in 2020. Scientists say the variant spreads more easily because it is better at latching onto cells in our bodies. The variant was first detected in the United States in March and now has been verified in 95 countries, according to the World Health Organization.

The highest number of new cases have been recorded in Brazil, India, Indonesia and Britain, WHO said. Experts said the cause is a mix of the delta variant, low vaccination rates and the relaxing of precautions such as mask rules.

The CDC said delta is believed to be the prevalent variant in the United States and could account for almost 80% of cases in the Midwest and upper mountain states. In areas where the vaccinations rates are low, COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are up, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said.

Vaccinations remain the key, medical experts said.

"For people who have not been vaccinated, I think travel should be dramatically restricted," Farber said. "You don’t want to get COVID at home, but you really don’t want to get it in Italy, Turkey or a national park someplace. … It’s never fun to be sick on vacation."

Lisa Cohen, founder and CEO of LC Luxe Travel and Events, which serves clients on Long Island and in New York City, said her company is busy booking vacations in the United States and overseas. Cohen said virtually all of her clients have been vaccinated.

"People who never traveled are traveling," she said. "It’s like the entire U.S. is traveling."

Internationally, New Yorkers are traveling to places such as Italy, Greece, Turkey and the south of France, travel agents said.

Two-thirds of Americans in The Harris Poll said they had either planned a summer vacation or already had booked one. And more than half said this is the first time they are traveling since the pandemic started. The Harris Poll, which surveys public opinion and policy, is headquartered in New York City and Chicago.

AAA Northeast spokesman Robert Sinclair Jr. said people are calling it "revenge travel," and have been going to national parks "like crazy."

"A lot of people saved money during the pandemic and are ready to travel," he said. "People are staying at their destinations longer and spending more money. It’s like they are making up for lost time."

Grano said many people are traveling within the United States because their passports expired during the lockdown. Hawaii is a top destination. "The planes are full, the lines are back at JFK," she said.

Masks are still required in the terminals and on airplanes. People taking plane trips should take hand sanitizer, Sinclair said, noting they are allowed to take up to 12 ounces.

"You should take all 12 ounces," he said. "You need to sterilize all the surfaces you are going to touch, from the arm rests to the controls for the audio and video, the touch screen — everything."

People who decide to drive to destinations should be mindful at rest stops and bring along sanitizer, he said.

Farber said even travelers who are fully vaccinated should be selective of where they go and take precautions. And while vaccinated people are less likely to get seriously ill or need hospitalization if they get COVID-19, there is a chance they could get sick, he added.

"Someone might think that if they are vaccinated that COVID is over," Farber said. "That is not the case."

With AP

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