Here we go again.
We're in the middle of a dramatic surge in COVID infections fueled by the delta variant. Roughly half the country isn't fully vaccinated. And the CDC this week issued a stern warning that people who haven't had all their shots should avoid travel this Labor Day weekend.
But people are traveling anyway.
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New data by Arrivalist suggests U.S. road trip activity continues to rise relative to 2019 and 2020, despite the delta variant, as I noted in the Monday Briefing. I've also spoken with many readers who tell me they are taking vacations even though they're unvaccinated.
Even business travel is on the rise, according to the latest TripActions data.
For the last five weeks, as the delta variant has peaked, new bookings rose between 6 percent and 8 percent from the previous week.
Who are these people?
Two distinct groups of leisure travelers are practicing some form of delta defiance. Both have their reasons, and you can't tell them apart when you're on a plane or hotel. But don't worry — I'm here to help.
By the way, you should probably get used to this, because it may be the new normal.
The first group: Those who believe COVID isn't real. They're not getting their vaccines because they either think COVID doesn't exist or that the vaccine is a grand conspiracy to steal their DNA and track them.
I know because I'm related to some of these COVID deniers. Earlier this week, a family member sent me one of those conspiracy videos, which certainly made a lot of interesting points, none of which could be proven.
On a side note, I'm stunned by the discussion of Ivermectin to treat COVID. Why would you need an unproven deworming medication for livestock to treat a disease that you believe doesn't exist? I've stopped arguing with my relatives about it; they can believe whatever they want. But is it too much to ask for some consistency?
Anyway, these travelers are out there — unvaccinated — and traveling this Labor Day. It's a terrible idea. Delta is highly infectious, and there's a pretty good chance they'll get sick on the road.
The travel industry isn't exactly helping. Instead, it's sending reassuring messages to anyone who wants to visit, hoping to collect much-needed tourism dollars. My colleague Richard D'Ambrosio has been calling for a common-sense approach to COVID in a series of compelling LinkedIn posts.
"I feel like if this industry is going to survive, we need a loud chorus of fact-based industry leaders who are willing to call the industry out on its bull****," he told me.
I agree. I've tried, Richard. I've tried.
But wait, we're vaccinated!
The second group of delta defiers is traveling because they've received the COVID vaccine. They believe it's safe to go. And they are right — at least for now.
I understand this perspective a little better than the latter because I'm in that group. I've been on the road since April, when COVID seemed as if it was headed for the exits. Now I've come full circle and am back where I was in April 2020: In Uncle Pete's basement in Spokane, Wash. COVID cases are rising again, too.
I have mixed feelings about continuing to Idaho, California, and then back to Europe. The infection rate could spike (I don't think it will), and I might get stuck in Coeur d'Alene. My kids and I are fully vaccinated, but there's always the risk of a breakthrough infection. That worries me.
I'm following the CDC's advice. The agency says fully vaccinated travelers can travel safely within the United States.
For me, being delta defiant isn't about traveling now. It's about making travel arrangements for next month or next year, knowing that the situation could worsen. I'm cautiously planning future trips.
But I'm worried — very worried.
Is this the "new normal"?
This idea that things might never get better — that COVID or some other pandemic will be with us for the rest of our natural lives — is starting to gain traction.
"I see this as the new normal," says subscriber Marc David. "Like you, I take issue with those in this country that refuse vaccines because of unscientific ideas or misinformation they read on some far-right website."
The new normal. Ah, there's a story here! Keep your eyes on USA Today. I've got something in the works, my friends.
But when I think of the new normal, I also wonder if the crazy division will be part of it. If half the country stays unvaccinated and travels, then every day is another potential superspreader event. If you're immunocompromised or have kids under 12, that thought is enough to keep you up at night.
No matter which group you're in, delta defiance is risky. The travel industry isn't taking it seriously, and neither is roughly half the U.S. population. This variant isn't like the others. It's spreading like wildfire and our collective desire to travel just seems to be fanning the flames. I don't think this will end well.
Over to you, my friends. Are you defying the delta variant? Which group are you in? Do you believe the COVID threat is real, or have you had your shots and believe it's OK to travel? Push the red button to share your thoughts.
About the art
Artist Dustin Elliott says he wanted to humorously capture that feeling we all get when we view others in public spaces who are abiding by the rules — or are blatantly disregarding them. "The virtuous, anxiety-ridden eye of the godly saint and their pursuit for universal health justice. Then we have the devil incarnate looking for any opportunity to prove that he is invincible to bioterrorism," he says. "What a divine yet disturbing dance." For more information about Dustin's art, check out his site.