Arizona health expert: Restricting US travel not the answer for omicron spread

Dec 2, 2021, 4:35 AM
Travelers arrive for flights at Newark Liberty International Airport on November 30, 2021 in Newark...
Travelers arrive for flights at Newark Liberty International Airport on November 30, 2021 in Newark, New Jersey. The United States, and a growing list of other countries, has restricted flights from southern African countries due to the detection of the COVID-19 Omicron variant last week in South Africa. Stocks in the travel and airline industry have fallen in recent days as fears grow over the spread and severity of the variant. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — The United States is looking to add more travel rules now that the new omicron variant of the coronavirus has been detected in California, but a local health expert doesn’t think travel bans are the answer.

“By the time that the variants are sequenced or detected, it’s likely spread into other areas,” said Dr. Michael White, chief medical officer at Valleywise Health. “And restricting travel at that point is likely not to have a great impact.”

The Biden administration late last month moved to restrict travel to and from eight countries in Southern Africa where the omicron variant was first identified, except for American citizens who are able to come back.

“I’ve decided that we’re going to be cautious,” President Joe Biden said as he announced the new travel rules.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also announced Wednesday it has directed airlines to provide it with names and contact information of all passengers who flew into the U.S. from Southern Africa since Nov. 29.

The CDC is also looking to require vaccinated and unvaccinated travelers be tested for COVID-19 within a day of boarding a flight to the U.S.

White said there are still a lot of unknowns about the omicron variant.

“What I can tell you is that we need to focus on what’s here with us today, and that’s the delta variant,” he said.

The delta variant is known to be the most contagious coronavirus mutation thus far in the pandemic. However, the vaccines that are available still provide strong protection against it.

“Those that are eligible – five years and up – if you have not been vaccinated, I would consider getting vaccinated at this particular point,” White said. “It’s not too late.”

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Arizona health expert: Restricting US travel not the answer for omicron spread