Millions of Americans are traveling home for Christmas this year, despite official handwringing about the need for caution in the face of the new omicron variant. On December 20, some 2.1 million people passed through airport checkpoints according to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).
That's nearly double the roughly 1 million people who thought it wise to travel on the same day during last year's holiday season, when deaths and hospitalizations from COVID-19 were at record highs across much of the country. The American Automobile Association (AAA) projects that people traveling over 50 miles from home by all modes will increase 34 percent overall from last year.
AAA says that overall travel is at 92 percent of 2019 levels. Air travel is a bit more suppressed, only bouncing back to about 85 percent of pre-pandemic levels.
The general picture you get is that the vast majority of Americans are ready to start living normal lives again after putting up with nearly two years of restrictions, mandates, and voluntary caution—omicron be damned.
The return of Christmas travel is even getting the incredibly tepid endorsement of the nation's most consistently cautious public health experts.
"If you're vaccinated and you're boosted, and you take care when you go into congregate settings like airports to make sure you continually wear your mask, you should be OK," said Anthony Fauci, the federal government's top infectious disease expert, on Sunday.
Let's hope so!
George Washington University professor and CNN medical analyst Leana Wen likewise sounded a slightly more permissive note by saying that New York City's New Year's Eve celebration should proceed as planned, given that it's outside and everyone will be required to be vaccinated.
I do not think that Mayor De Blasio should cancel NYC's New Year celebration. This is outdoors & requires vaccination. Yes, omicron is surging, but we need to continue activities that are of high-value while adding precautions that reduce risk. @BilldeBlasio @VictorBlackwell pic.twitter.com/tyOfQ5fT7g
— Leana Wen, M.D. (@DrLeanaWen) December 20, 2021
In a Washington Post column, Wen went even further, saying that "it would be reasonable for the vaccinated and boosted to decide that they will continue traveling, dining out and seeing friends and family."
"Generally healthy people could conclude that their chance of getting seriously ill from omicron is very low," continued Wen. "Their fear of hospitalization or long-haul symptoms may be outweighed by their desire to return to pre-pandemic activities."
This might sound like incredibly tepid advice some two years into the pandemic. It's still a big step for Wen, who was proposing quarantine and testing requirements for all international travelers regardless of vaccination status less than a month ago to contain the then–recently identified omicron variant.
To be sure, she is still advocating that the vaccinated should continue to wear high-quality masks when indoors, test themselves before any indoor maskless events, and consider quarantining after attending those events.
Fauci, for his part, has said that he thinks air travelers should continue wearing masks for this, and all future flights home for Christmas. Great.
No fucking shit. The Wall Street Journal reports today that the frequency at which people swear has increased during the pandemic. Writes the Journal:
Pandemic stress, the melding of personal and professional spheres, and an exhausted slide toward casualness are making many of us swear more. It is "a perfect swearing storm," says Michael Adams, a linguist at Indiana University Bloomington.
Mentions of [fuck], shit and asshole, or related variations, rose 41% from full-year 2019 to 2021 through the end of November on Facebook and 27% on Twitter, according to Storyful, a news and intelligence agency.
With President Joe Biden's Build Back Better bill seemingly dead in the water for now, some Democrats are urging the president to enact portions of it via his own executive authority. On Tuesday, House Progressive Caucus Chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D–Wash.) said, per The Hill, "it is now incumbent on President Biden to keep his promise to us and to the American people by using the ultimate tool in his toolbox of executive action in every arena immediately."
This comes after Sen. Joe Manchin (D–W.Va.) released a statement saying that he could not vote for the BBB legislation, given its multitude of temporary programs, front-loaded spending, and delayed pay-fors.
Rather than continue trying to win his vote, progressives have clearly decided voting isn't all that necessary.
When asked what Biden thinks of Jayapal's comments, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that the president hasn't been reluctant to use executive action in the past but that "the benefit of legislation is obviously that it makes it permanent."
The other benefit would seem to be that it makes policies constitutional.
- The omicron variant now accounts for 73 percent of new COVID-19 infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- A new story published by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists recounts how two psychedelic advocates smuggled MDMA into the Soviet Union in the hopes of giving it to Kremlin officials participating in peace talks with the U.S.
- After consulting with three classes of experts, the president has decided to give up on his dog Major.
Pet news dump from the WH: New puppy, new cat, and Major will get a new family.
"After consulting with dog trainers, animal behaviorists, and veterinarians, the First Family has decided … it would be safest for Major to live in a quieter environment with family friends."
— Katie Rogers (@katierogers) December 20, 2021