Holiday travel in full swing as Florida reports spike in COVID-19 cases

The omicron variant has given rise to another COVID-19 surge in Florida with the state reporting more than 20,000 new cases on Tuesday, the largest jump in cases since September, according to the CDC. It’s a trend seen across the country as the holidays approach.

The surge comes during one of the busiest travel periods of the year.

Over at the Tampa International Airport, officials are reminding travelers to give themselves extra time. For those who want to save time, they can take advantage of those new express lanes if you’re traveling with just a carry-on or picking up someone who’s traveling light.

Christmas 2019 was a record-setting year for flights. AAA reports the U.S. will be close to those pre-pandemic levels. Because of this, airport officials are urging passengers to give themselves two hours to reach their gate for domestic flights. 

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"Everybody is trying to accomplish the same goal. We all want to get to our destination to spend time with friends and family," said Mark Jenkins, AAA spokesman. "It’s the getting there that can sometimes be challenging. So, please, just allow yourselves extra time to get to where you need to go."

That will certainly be the case on the roads. AAA says more than 90% of travelers this season will drive. Traffic is estimated to be up 34% over this time last year. Traveling on Christmas and New Year’s Eve can help avoid some of those crowds. 

No matter which day you choose to travel, AAA says mornings will likely have the least amount of traffic. 

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For the second year in a row, the ever-morphing virus presents would-be revelers with a difficult choice: cancel holiday gatherings and trips or figure out ways to forge ahead as safely as possible. Many health experts are begging people not to let down their guard.

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus put it starkly this week when he said that "an event canceled is better than a life canceled."

But pandemic fatigue is real. And while travel restrictions in some places have forced cancellations, many governments have been reluctant to order more lockdowns, leaving decisions about who to see and where to go increasingly in the hands of individuals.

READ: Omicron variant less likely to require hospitalization, studies show

Complicating matters is the mystery that surrounds omicron. Scientists now know it spreads fast — perhaps up to three times faster than the delta variant. It also seems to be better at evading vaccines, although boosters rev up protection, particularly against hospitalization and death. But a crucial question remains: Does omicron cause less severe illness than delta? Some research suggests that it does, but the studies are preliminary.

Even if it is milder, omicron could still overwhelm hospitals because of the sheer number of infections. That makes it difficult to know how far to turn down the dial on the festive season.

In the United States, infections average around 149,000 a day, and officials announced this week that omicron dethroned delta as the dominant variant. In Britain, where an omicron-fueled surge is seen as a harbinger for many other European countries, daily cases topped 100,000 for the first time on Tuesday. France, Spain, and Italy are also seeing infection spikes.