The world is about to open again

Like it or not, COVID is already in the rearview mirror — and that worries me

After almost two long years of lockdowns, quarantines and staycations, the world is on the verge of reopening.

You can see signs of it everywhere. Last week, the U.S. government announced it would allow foreign nationals to visit the United States beginning Nov. 8. The Canadian government revised its guidance against nonessential travel and now says citizens should be fully vaccinated before departing the country.

So why am I still worried? 

It's simple this time. There's a delta strain called AY.4.2. There's COVID amnesia. And there's the fact that the travel industry didn't learn anything from the pandemic, so a repeat of this summer's surge is not out of the question.

You worried, too?

I'd love to hear your thoughts on the fall and winter travel season. Are you concerned about travel? Do you think it's too early to be reopening?

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Have you heard about AY.4.2?

Let's start with AY.4.2, better known as delta plus. The "plus" stands for extra infectious. This variant spreads more quickly and appears to be even more deadly than the garden-variety delta variant. 

U.K. officials say AY.4.2 makes up 6% of all analyzed COVID-19 cases in the nation and is on an increasing trajectory. COVID cases are also on the rise in Britain, Germany, Romania, Russia and Ukraine, although we don’t know how many are plus-size cases.

I know, I know. It's probably nothing. But isn't that what they said in July when delta started spreading in the United States? 

I've been writing about this summer's madness in my Forbes series on traveling during delta. People just ignored the danger. Many didn't get vaccinated, didn't take any precautions, and instead hit the road — exactly what the Centers for Disease Control advised them not to do.

I'm not opposed to travel, but I think people who haven't had their shots yet should consider waiting until AY.4.2  is on the decline. I fear they won't, and more people will die because of it.

And that’s not the only thing I’m worried about.

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How soon we forget

I first wrote about COVID amnesia in my Forbes series. I noted then that pandemic amnesia would likely become a problem soon. Consider the 1918 influenza outbreak. It took just five years for the pandemic, which killed between 50 million and 100 million people worldwide, to become an almost-forgotten historical footnote.

When I hear from travelers who say they're making plans to travel in 2022, come hell or high water, I think to myself, "It could be either."

COVID amnesia is already a problem. The travel industry has a vested interest in making us forget about the last two years quickly, and too many travelers are happy to comply. On Monday, the Scandinavian airline SAS dropped mask requirements on flights within Scandinavia, as did Norwegian, Widerøe and Flyr. It won't be long before other airlines do, too. 

Some places want you to forget sooner than others. For example, for the last two weeks, I've been based in Los Angeles County, which has super-strict mask requirements. But San Diego County, where vaccination rates are higher, is far more lax. On Friday, I visited tourism officials in Carlsbad and then headed down to the Lafayette Hotel in San Diego to research a story.

Nary a mask in sight there. 

If we forget about the pandemic at a time like this, are we just going to repeat past mistakes?

There could be a fourth wave

I hate to be a prophet of doom, but I'm just going to call it as I see it. We're not out of the woods on COVID. I'm particularly alarmed by the new infection rates in Germany. 

That's worse than this summer’s delta spike.

If delta plus spreads during the cold months in the U.S., it could be worse than the big wave in November and December of 2020. That would effectively shut down travel and almost certainly lead to vaccination requirements for domestic air travel. 

So what should you do? 

Deal with it. The world is opening for travel again. Some say too soon, some say not soon enough. You can read the debate here. We're not going to be able to stop the reopening. But you can control what you do and how you travel.

Avoid the hotspots. Even if you're vaccinated and can go somewhere, that doesn't mean you should. You might want to steer clear of those Christmas markets in Germany next month. Yes, even if you're fully vaccinated. It's safer if you've had all your shots, but please don't tempt fate. I know people who have gotten breakthrough infections.

Don't go anywhere if you're not vaxxed. Look, if you don't have the vaccine — it doesn't matter why — please wait until it's safer. We may disagree on getting vaccinated, and that's fine, but I want all my readers to survive this pandemic. So please, please, follow the CDC guidelines and don't travel if you're unvaccinated. 

Where does that leave the author of this newsletter, who is always traveling? Well, the boys and I are fully vaccinated and we're getting boosters next week. Germany was on my itinerary for early 2022, but I'm putting that on hold for now. I'm reluctant to plan anything beyond early next year because of the uncertainty. 

But one thing I can tell you: I'm not going to forget COVID or pretend like it never happened. And when the travel industry gives you a thumbs-up on your holiday itinerary, I'll be there to remind you of all this nonsense.

What do you think about the world reopening for travel?

How do you feel about the world reopening for travel? Excited? Nervous? Indifferent? I'd love to get your thoughts. The comments are open.

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About the art

Artist Dustin Elliott says he wanted to visually display the tension between the contrasting attitudes toward social distancing among travelers. "To underscore this tension, I implemented red and blues that play off of each other," he explains. That's an interesting color choice.