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Safe To Travel Yet? Safer... But Not Safe

Yesterday, everyone in the local grocery store was masked-- except for one person, a guy in his late 20s/early 30s, who was strolling down the aisles with two masked women. No one seems to have paid him any mind. I haven't seen anyone in a store without a mask since March, 2020. I didn't panic. I've been eating in restaurants-- or outside restaurants-- for two weeks now, so I've become used to seeing people without masks. A couple of weeks ago a 7-person crew from A&E was here at my house to film an episode of Hip Hop: The Origins, or something like that. Although I did ask to see everyone's vaccine card, as was agreed in advance, I didn't mind that there were people walking around without masks. As you'll see when they run the show, I wasn't masked for the interview.

On Friday I went to the dentist. Everyone was required to wear a mask, which I still find comforting. But the receptionist asked some inane questions-- had I been with anyone you has COVID in the last few days; did I have a temperature; had I travelled. That last one seemed like an odd question. And they didn't ask the question they should have: "Can you please show me proof that you've been double vaccinated?"

On Friday, Los Angeles County only reported 184 new cases of COVID, bringing the total to 1,247,216. There were 5 new deaths (bringing the total to 24,444). Anti-science states Florida and Texas have been having the most new cases. Friday Florida had 1,627 and 53 new deaths and Texas had 1,235 and 47 new deaths.

Yesterday, the U.S., which has had the most cases and the most deaths from Trump-COVID (34,400,767 cases and 617,074 deaths), was barely still even in the worldwide top 10 for new cases (or new deaths):

  • Brazil- 81,574 (2,247)

  • India- 58,588 (1,239)

  • Colombia- 28,734 (589)

  • Russia- 17,906 (466)

  • Argentina- 15,631 (495)

  • South Africa- 13,575 (149)

  • Indonesia- 12,906 (248)

  • U.K.- 10,321 (14)

  • Philippines- 6,959 (153)

  • USA- 6,837 (161)

The half dozen countries on the short list of places I want to visit imminently are all in no shape to be visited (maybe not as dangerous as Florida, but still too dangerous for me to roll the dice on):

  • Spain- 4,214 (18)

  • Mexico- 4,098 (167)

  • Thailand- 3,667 (32)

  • France- 2,624 (22)

  • Italy- 1,197 (28)

  • Morocco- 439 (4)

The Delta variant is more contagious and more dangerous than the Alpha (original strain of COVD). It's now the dominant strain in the U.K. and was so alarming to public health officials that the reluctant conservative government withdrew plans to throw off restrictions. The Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines are all considered effective against the Delta variant, though not as effective, especially not in the period before the 2 weeks required to be fully vaccinated after your second shot.

After the second dose, the Pfizer vaccine is 88 percent effective against symptomatic disease from the Delta variant, compared to 93 percent effective against the Alpha variant. After the second dose, the AstraZeneca vaccine is 60 percent effective against symptomatic disease from the Delta variant, compared to 66 percent effective against the Alpha. Three weeks after one dose, both vaccines were only 33 percent effective against symptomatic disease from the Delta variant, compared to about 50 percent effective against the Alpha variant, emphasizing the risks of skipping of the second dose.
...In the UK, peak transmission of the Delta variant is happening among individuals age 12 to 20.

Yesterday, travel reporter Concepción de León wrote, ominously of the dangers posed by the Delta variant for those traveling. The EU is allowing Americans to travel to Europe again (with proof of a negative coronavirus test), 3 countries on my list, but how safe is it? "The E.U. decision," wrote de León, "comes the same week that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention elevated the Delta variant of the coronavirus to a 'variant of concern' as it appears to spread more quickly and may affect people more severely than earlier forms of the virus." She offered a here's what you need to know list before booking a trip:

Where is the Delta variant spreading?
So far, the variant, first identified in India, has spread to more than 80 countries as of June 16, according to the World Health Organization. In a news conference on June 10, Dr. Hans Kluge, W.H.O.’s regional director for Europe, said that the variant was “poised to take hold” in Europe.
Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said this will probably be the case in other countries, as well.
“If you’re out and about this summer, chances that you’re going to encounter the Delta variant, either in the U.S. or in Europe or other parts of the world, are pretty high,” she said.
The Delta variant currently makes up between six and 10 percent of cases in the United States, said Dr. Ashish Jha, the dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health, adding that it will probably will be the dominant strain in the United States by August.
If you are fully vaccinated, particularly with a two-dose vaccine, “don’t worry about the Delta variant,” Dr. Jha said.
Millions of Americans have received either Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines; both are two-dose vaccines. Studies have shown their efficacy drops only slightly when encountering variants.
“People who have been vaccinated still do quite well against this variant,” Dr. Jha said, “but it is one where you need a high degree of immunity to ward off, so you really need to have both of your doses of your vaccine.”
...Unequal access to the vaccine across the world has meant that poorer countries are less adequately protected, with cases continuing to rise in parts of South America, Southeast Asia and Africa. According to the W.H.O., 75 percent of vaccine doses have gone to just 10 nations.
Dr. Jha said it’s important to look at not just vaccination rates for the country, but also the vaccine that is being used there. Brazil, Turkey and other countries are relying on one or both of the two main vaccines manufactured by Chinese companies to inoculate their citizens.
“We don’t have data that the Chinese vaccines, for instance, are quite as good in general, and particularly around the Delta variant,” Dr. Jha said.
I’m fully vaccinated. What would it mean if I traveled to a place that had low vaccination numbers?
A recent study by the C.D.C. shows that the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines reduce the risk of infection from any form of the virus by 91 percent for fully vaccinated people. The single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine is about 66 percent effective at preventing infection.
“Is it complete? No,” Dr. Nuzzo said. “But is it pretty darn good to the point that I personally would relax? Yes.”
It’s possible for vaccinated people to still be infected, she said, but the cases of this happening are quite low, and even if they get infected, they are unlikely to become ill. She added that those who have symptoms are more likely to spread the virus, so “if the vaccines did a good job at keeping you without symptoms, the likelihood that you’re going to spread it is quite low.”
If you want to further improve your odds of not getting infected, she recommends continuing to follow safety protocols like wearing a mask, social distancing and avoiding crowded, poorly ventilated indoor spaces.
If you are vaccinated but your immune system is compromised, because of a medical condition or because of certain medications you take, you should heed caution. You may not be fully protected, she said.
...How is the variant affecting travel restrictions?
When the initial version of the coronavirus swept the globe last spring, much of the world hunkered down, restricting domestic movement, and many countries shut their borders to nonessential travel.
Now, many nations are opening up, but concern remains about the virus, particularly about the Delta variant. Some countries are making specific changes to their entry decisions because of the variant, while others are ordering emergency lockdowns.
On June 18, Italy’s health minister said that the nation would require a mandatory five-day quarantine and testing for people coming from Britain, even if they are vaccinated, over concerns about the Delta variant. It also extended the ban on arrivals from India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
On the same day, Portugal ordered a weekend lockdown for the capital region of Lisbon, as a way to curb a surging number of virus cases. Roughly half of the reported cases stem from the Delta variant.
Rules around testing and requirements to enter another country are evolving and can change quickly from one day to the next. Make sure to check the requirements for your destination country before booking your flight, but also in the days before to you travel make sure you are following the most updated rules.

If you're unvaccinated, you should spend your vacation in a mental institution instead of leaving home.

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