By Elizabeth Cook and Molly McCrea
With the summer months approaching and COVID-19 vaccinations continuing to rise, Bay Area residents are dreaming of travel destinations and possibly even heaven.
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It was quiet Tuesday afternoon at the San Francisco International Terminal, but it is clear that SFO is no longer a ghost town.
Doug Yakel, the SFO’s information specialist, informed KPIX 5 that the terminals are active again. In April 2020, fewer than 2,000 people went through security checks a day.
Now the airport hits a new record for passenger activity almost every week. SFO has just handled 30,000 passengers a day. Yakel predicts the airport will hit 40,000 a day in the summer.
“We’re still on about 50% of our pre-pandemic activity, but this is the longest stretch of positive passenger growth since the pandemic began,” noted Yakel.
Flight crews gather, there is optimism in the air and a growing wanderlust among passengers.
“I think next summer it might be a really good idea to just get out there and explore and live life,” noted passenger Dani Oyatayo.
Where in the world would she like to visit? Oyatayo told KPIX 5 Dubai or the Caribbean.
“We have been quarantined and trapped in our homes for months,” she said.
Costa Rica is what Gary Gabert identified as a dream place.
Gabert was with his two young daughters when he came to the terminal to pick up a relative. He told KPIX 5 that he now feels perfectly safe by air.
“Given the increasing vaccination rates and the fact that fewer people are found and transmitted, I don’t understand why we would have problems in the future,” said the young father.
UCSF Infectious Diseases Expert Dr. Neither does Monica Gandhi.
Dr. Gandhi’s strategy: stay out of trouble spots and only travel to places where COVID-19 cases are low and vaccination rates are high, such as the UK.
“It is perfectly safe to travel because your vaccine protects you. And anyone with you who has not yet been vaccinated like a child is protected by the low case rates in the region, ”said Gandhi.
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The CDC recommends that you do not travel internationally until you are fully vaccinated. People are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after their second dose in a two-dose series. or two weeks after a single dose vaccination like Johnson & Johnson’s “One and Doed” vaccine.
However, the agency also warns that even if you are fully vaccinated, you are at an increased risk of receiving and potentially spreading any of the new COVID-19 variants.
Dr. Gandhi disagreed.
“If you’re vaccinated, I’m not worried about the variant,” said the UCSF expert.
Gandhi told KPIX 5 that there is too much focus on the part of the immune system known as the antibody response.
She explained that our immune system is far more complex and that the COVID-19 vaccines not only produce antibodies, but also a deeper and more permanent arm of the immune system called T cells. These T cells offer protection against the variants, she said.
But she warned if you are immunocompromised you need to take precautions.
“Keep that mask on, keep the distance in the community,” said Dr. Gandhi.
When it comes to masks, travelers will definitely want to pack them.
Yakel reminded KPIX 5 that there is still a federal mandate. Bottom line: Whenever you are at an airport or on board an airplane, you must wear a face mask.
“So stick with those masks, you’ll need them for air travel,” said Yakel.
Vaccine IDs are not yet required for SFO. However, the airport is testing a pilot program with Air France on flights between Paris and the Bay Area.
Passengers can download a mobile app within 72 hours of travel and register their vaccinations and any negative COVID test results.
The CDC asks all international travelers to be tested 3-5 days after departure. You don’t need to get tested before leaving the U.S. unless your destination requires it. And you don’t have to quarantine yourself once you arrive in the US
At SFO there are now three COVID-19 test services for passengers on site: in the international terminal, Terminal 3, and at a test site next to the long-term car park.
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Dr. Gandhi told KPIX 5 that it predicts the tests will soon only be recommended for travelers symptomatic of COVID-19 infection.