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What the U.S. travel advisory means for Canadians

WASHINGTON – From the reactions I’ve heard, when the US State Department raised its travel recommendation for Canada this week to ‘level four: don’t travel’ some Canadians took it as an insult .

They are good to judge, aren’t they? Have they looked in the mirror?

But it’s not like that, I don’t think so. The United States currently has around 80 countries on its no-travel list, which is advice rather than a rule. The notice does not change any rules at the border. It does not ban travel or tighten restrictions. It’s just an acknowledgment that COVID-19 is prevalent across Canada right now – which, if I read the work of my colleagues at The Star correctly, is a pretty accurate assessment.

Meanwhile, Canada is covering the world with its global travel advisory to “avoid non-essential travel outside of Canada.”

For Canadians who view the pandemic situation in the United States as an indicator of what is to come, there is an alternation of good news and bad news.

The first bad news is that COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths are as serious or worse than they were during the peak last year. Over the past two weeks, according to tracking data from the New York Times, the United States has averaged more than 780,000 new cases a day, more than 1.5 times more than two weeks ago. Hospitalizations across the country have increased 82 percent during the same period. Deaths have increased by more than half.

United States Food and Drug Administration chief Dr. Janet Woodcock told Congress this week: “Most people are going to get COVID. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the famous director of the National Institutes of Health, said something similar: “Omicron will find just about anyone. ”

It really looks like this.

The good news is that in much of the northeast, where Omicron first caused massive outbreaks in the United States, infection rates may have peaked. Here in Washington, DC, confirmed cases have fallen 17% in the past two weeks – even though schools and restaurants have remained open.

But the bad news here is that hospitalizations continue to skyrocket (which might be expected, as hospitalizations are a lagging indicator). It is somewhat reassuring that most hospitals in the region report having intensive care capacity. The test positivity rates remain very high at 25%. Dr. Bob Watcher, Chairman of the Department of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, suggests that in San Francisco it’s fair to assume that one in 10 people has it – and many other experts have suggested that the actual rates of Omicron cases are much higher than confirmed reports indicate.

Another good news is that there is a lot of evidence – in the United States and abroad – that vaccinations, and especially boosters, offer strong protection against severe cases of COVID-19 that can lead to hospitalization. or death.

But there’s bad news with this: The northeastern towns where Omicron appears to have peaked are among the most vaccinated regions in the country. In other words, there might be reason to expect areas where Omicron is still spreading rapidly to be places where fewer people are vaccinated. And in rural areas of many states with low vaccination rates, there are typically fewer hospitals and less intensive care capacity.

This Omicron wave in the United States could get a lot uglier still.

Many American commentators (and, for the record, many Americans you meet) seem to interpret Fauci and Woodcock’s warnings about how Omicron is spreading as confirmation of some sort of COVID-19 fatalism: if it comes for all of us, why bother with precautions? It fuels the “I’m so above it whether it’s over me or not” attitude that I talked about before the holidays.

Still, the doctors’ point is that given the prevalence and transmissibility of this variant – and possibly those to come, who knows? – getting vaccinated and boosted is important to protect against serious infections, and wearing high-quality masks to slow the spread so hospitals can keep pace. Sounds pretty sane.

One final piece of good news: vaccination rates have increased slowly and steadily. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 63 percent of Americans have now been fully immunized (67 percent of those eligible) and more than half of those who are vaccinated have received a booster. And people still get their first dose: In the past month, while about 16 million Americans received boosters, 8.8 million more received their first dose of the vaccine. Seventy-five percent of Americans have now received at least one dose of the vaccine.

These vaccination rates are about 10 percent lower than in Canada (on the full-dose and single-dose fronts), but they represent progress.

Still, if the State Department were to issue travel advisories to Americans about locations in the United States, it is likely that the entire country would be stamped with a DO NOT TRAVEL designation. It wouldn’t be an insult. It’s just good advice, based on the circumstances.