TAMPA, Fla. - It is estimated more than 109 million people will be traveling out of town for the holidays starting next week.
For many, it is a chance to reconnect with loved ones. However, jumping on a plane, bus or train could be risky with COVID-19 cases on the rise, experts say, and another variant gaining traction, making medical experts are concerned.
For the last three weeks, COVID-19 cases here in Florida have been on the rise.
"We’ve definitely seen a blip post-Thanksgiving, and I’ve already heard about three or four cases of people came up with COVID in the last week because they went to some sort of holiday party," said Dr. Kami Kim, Director of the USF Division of Infectious Diseases.
The virus is circulating across the nation. According to the CDC, 84% of states now have high community spread. Delta makes up most of those cases, but the omicron variant is quickly growing. The strain has been found in at least 36 states, and preliminary data suggests it is significantly more contagious and may be more resistant to vaccines.
"I think people really need to take it a little bit more seriously than they have been," Kim said. "I think it's going to be really bad in January."
Between December 23 and January 2, AAA expects nearly 110 million people to head out of town. Many travelers will be driving and flying, in close contact with strangers and loved ones.
Medical experts say COVID should give everyone pause to decide what they are willing to risk.
"Especially if you have people in your family that are medically vulnerable. Remember you can transmit this asymptomatically, you might be infected and you might not even know it," said Dr. Michael Teng, USF Associate Professor of Medicine. "And that might have severe consequences."
He says the health of your loved ones, their vaccination status, the destination you are headed to, and how you will be traveling all matter.
"If you're just driving to Fort Myers for Christmas, it's probably safer than flying into New York City, or Chicago or Boston, because that's where it seems to be hotspots," Teng said.
Doctors recommend keeping your distance and avoid taking your mask off to even eat or drink on a crowded plane.
Maybe skip the big holiday parties, or opt for an intimate gathering instead of hitting the bars. Experts say getting a COVID shot or booster is still highly effective at preventing severe illness and hospitalization.
"Many of the vaccinated people got vaccinated in that first wave so that their protection is waning," said Kim.
"It's really essential if you've been vaccinated and…if you're eligible for the booster [you] should go ahead and get it," Teng added.