Holiday Travelers Return to Bay Area, Raising Concerns Over Another Virus Surge

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As travelers across the country begin to make their way home after the Christmas holiday, health leaders are concerned with the possibility of a post-holiday surge in COVID-19 cases.

And those traveling from the United Kingdom must take an extra step before they are allowed to get on a plane, in response to what health officials there are calling a mutant strain of the coronavirus.

In an effort to slow the spread of the deadlier strain from the U.K., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced new testing requirements for those arriving from that nation. Travelers from the U.K. must present a negative COVID-19 test within three days of boarding a flight to the U.S.

According to the CDC, if a traveler does not present the test, the airline must deny that passenger from boarding the flight.

Scientific opinions are mixed, with some saying publicly the U.S. policy to use testing to keep out the mutant strain is like using a chain link fence to keep out mosquitos. But UCSF infectious disease specialist Dr. Peter Chin-Hong points out the vaccines will be effective against the new strain, which is probably already in the U.S.

"Screening people at the borders with virus testing is something that is completely reasonable, something that other countries have done before. Even Hawaii does that to some level," he said. "So, I think that is something that I support. But a blanket ban, complete overreaction."

The Transportation Security Administration said they screened more than 1 million Americans over the Christmas holiday in midst of a pandemic that is now deadlier than ever. The TSA said Sunday's traffic was just 45% of what it was a year ago, but for many, the concern is still there.

Many communities across the country and in the Bay Area have just a small percentage of their ICU beds available.

"When you're dealing with a baseline of 200,000 new cases a day and about 2,000 deaths per day, with the hospitalizations over 120,000, we are really at a very critical point," infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said.

Chin-Hong said the best way to respect the virus, regardless of the strain, is to keep doing the recommended precautions: washing hands, wearing a mask and socially distancing.

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