Local hospitals, airports weigh in on Omicron variant travel bans

SALISBURY, Md. – As the U.S. continues to add nations to its travel ban list as Omicron variant cases continue to be discovered in over 15 countries, experts are weighing in on what risk international travel possesses, and what advantage a travel ban posses against a variant that already has one confirmed case in the U.S.

Heather Snyder, the Infection Control manager of Atlantic General Hospital tells us, just because the U.S. has banned travel from countries where the Omicron variant was identified, doesn’t mean more cases won’t come in, or may already be here undetected.

“It helps to prevent the prevalence of it not the presence of it,” she said, adding, “For countries where the variant has already arrived what the travel ban will do is allow those countries some breathing room and allow them to prepare so by not banning travel we have not increased the case rate.”

She says that delay can be crucial for hospitals to increase capacity and gather more research on the variant, but she believes that many cases could already be in the U.S. in un-sequenced clusters.

The one case reported in the U.S. did come in by airport in California from Southern Africa. Salisbury Airport Manager Tony Rudy tells us, despite its size, international travelers, and those in close proximity to them could make their way to Salisbury.

“If you were an international traveler, you could come into Salisbury through a huge airport like Philadelphia,” he said.

Rudy tells us those travel shutdowns can devastate areas where they are placed and hopes those measures aren’t considered domestically.

“You lose efficiency, any business will tell you the reason they fly people out is to get somewhere very quickly even if its a shorter distance or a couple of hour drive, I doubt a business traveler would want to drive several days to a destination to do a business deal that could hurt the economy tremendously,” he said.

Rudy tells us that’s an unlikely outcome, but according to Snyder, what travel bans could do is give discourage more countries from coming forward with cases, fearing the consequences of a travel ban. Snyder tells us for health officials looking to get as much information on just how contagious the Omicron variant is the stigma around travel bans is a real concern.

“This could be viewed as discriminatory and there may be countries that can be reluctant but the more we know and the quicker we know the more we can prepare and continue to learn from each other,” she said. She says she hopes countries continue to be forthcoming with information and allow U.S. hospitals to be more prepared.

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