coronavirus

LA's Omicron Surge is Peaking Now, Researchers Say. Is It Time To Make Travel Plans?

"Business now is as good as it was, prior to the pandemic. People are dying to travel," says Diane Sherer, owner of the "Beyond Traveled" agency.

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Researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health spend their days making detailed mathematical forecasts on the Omicron surge, and they tell the NBC4 I-Team that rising case numbers might have peaked on Tuesday in the LA Metro Area.

"Omicron is going to start to run out of people to infect," says Prof. Jeffrey Shaman, who heads the research team at Columbia. "In the LA the metro area, [the surge] peaks this week, and it’s going to start to come down after that."

The projections made by the Columbia University team calculate that by around Feb. 25, case numbers in the LA area will have dropped to levels not seen since before Omicron hit.

And so far, the Columbia team's projections on the surge have been accurate for other cities, like Chicago. They forecasted that cases in Chicago would peak around Jan. 9, and in fact, cases there were down 24% last week, according to Chicago city data.

Prof. Shaman is confident enough in his team's projections that he's starting to plan a family vacation for this summer.

"It’s something that my family and I are certainly thinking about. We’re certainly planning it," Shaman told NBC4.

"Business now is as good as it was, prior to the pandemic. People are dying to travel," says Diane Sherer, owner of the "Beyond Traveled" agency.

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Sherer says travelers should expect "a new normal" when planning vacations.

"People should expect to be tested, they should be vaccinated and be boosted, to be able to go everywhere," she tells the I-Team. "Domestic travel I think is very similar to how it was, pre-pandemic, other than of course, people are wearing masks and things like that. International is challenging, but can be done."

Even with the surge predicted to slow down, countries such as France, Spain, and the Netherlands are now requiring most adults to be vaccinated and boosted to enter. And in cities like Paris, you must show a "Health Pass" to enter museums, proving you are fully vaccinated.

Even though the researchers at Columbia see case numbers coming down nationwide later this week--about four days after LA--they add a qualifier to their pandemic forecasts.

"It’s actually akin to a weather forecast. We’re very used to the fact that precipitation forecasts for tomorrow are really pretty good. But when you go five days out, they’re not nearly as good. And when we’re dealing with with this virus—where human behavior really affects what we see, it’s even harder to predict," says Columbia's Prof. Shaman.

That's why many travel professionals recommend you buy travel insurance when planning an upcoming vacation.

"It covers you if you have to test to get into the country and you have COVID and with 24 hours notice, you can’t go. It will cover you for trip interruption when you’re there, if you get sick and can’t come home. It can cover additional accommodations. It’s vitally important to have travel insurance right now for so many reasons," says Diane Sherer of Beyond Traveled.

"I would look for refundable tickets. And make sure that you’re still within the window that you can cancel your hotel reservations," Prof. Shaman told the I-Team.

"COVID-19 is here for the rest of our lives," Shaman says. But one bit of good news--he doesn't see a new variant on the horizon.

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