HOUSTON – It seems like nothing will slow the surge of traveling lately, but health leaders are hoping that doesn’t equal a surge in COVID cases – specifically eyeing up the omicron variant.
As of Monday, these are the new restrictions on international travelers:
- All passengers coming into the United States need a negative COVID-19 test taken within 24 hours of departure.
- Any foreign national must also be fully vaccinated.
- The federal mask requirement in airports and public transportation like planes, trains and buses will remain through March.
- Current travel restrictions only apply to airline passengers.
- Travelers driving across the Mexico or Canada border do not need to test negative.
The eight African nations where travel is entirely restricted feel world leaders are going too far.
When will it be reevaluated?
That’s already in the works.
Tori Emerson Barnes, Executive Vice President of Public Affairs and Policy for the U.S. Travel Association said, “We need to figure out how to balance not only the economy and the health concerns simultaneously, but we also need to think about making sure we still welcome international travelers here to the U.S.”
Will there be more travel restrictions coming down on domestic flights?
Dr. Francis Collins with the National Institutes of Health said no.
He said there will be community spread within our borders, but the main goal is to keep new variants out.
How does Houston compare to the rest of the country with COVID cases?
Houston is currently doing better than many other parts of the country.
Dr. Bradley Lembcke, MBA and senior vice president and chief medical officer for St. Luke’s Health, says local cases recently dipped very low after they had surged high during the fourth wave of the pandemic.
“We had recovered to one of our best levels about three weeks ago,” Lembcke said, “Our Texas division was incredibly low, it was in the 30s. So, many of our hospitals had zero COVID cases.”
He says currently numbers are creeping back up but not significantly.
Here’s a look at where Greater Houston stands:
Last week, the average daily reproduction rate for the Greater Houston area was 0.67, according to the Texas Medical Center which has hospital systems across nine counties. Any number above 1.0 indicates the virus is spreading in our community.
Out of Galveston, Harris County and Houston, the zip code currently with the highest number of active cases is 77449 in Katy where they have 273 active cases. In comparison, most other zip codes have fewer than 100 cases, many below 50.
Some scientists speculate with the mix of natural and vaccine immunity, maybe the virus will stabilize in the new year but with Omicron and holiday travel looming, Dr. Lembcke said it’s too soon to tell.
“You see what happened in South Africa how rapidly it overtook Delta and other variants,” Lembcke said. “We are hoping it’s a mostly mild, serious illness but the next month to two months that will be very apparent.”