Daily Mail Online: LONDON, England – Leading airline and business groups on Monday called on the Biden administration to issue vaccine passports and pushed back against the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for urging fully vaccinated Americans to avoid travel – despite 5.6 million Americans already taking to the skies ahead of Spring Break.
Airlines For America, an industry group, said in a statement that being on a plane poses a low risk of contracting the virus due to filtered air and mandated mask wearing.
Meanwhile, the so-called vaccine passports would let travelers show they’ve been inoculated against COVID-19 – but airlines fear that a hodgepodge of documents from different states would cause confusion, so they’re calling on the federal government to come up with a plan.
The industry’s push for opening the skies for travel came as thousands of people already have taken off for Spring Break, with pictures of revelers on the beach populating social media.
The comments also came in response to CDC Director Dr Rochelle Walensky, who said during a White House briefing on Monday that fully vaccinated people should avoid ‘non-essential travel’, especially as Spring Break approaches.
Walensky and other health experts are concerned that spring break travel will lead to an surge in infections at a time when the US is finally starting to see a significant decline in cases.
“Every time there’s a surge in travel, we have a surge in cases in this country,” Walensky said.
CDC Director Dr Rochelle Walensky said during a White House briefing on Monday that fully vaccinated people should avoid”‘non-essential travel”, especially as spring break approaches. Spring breakers are seen enjoying warm Miami weather over the weekend.
But the Airlines For America challenged Walensky’s remarks and said that being on a plane poses a low risk of contracting the virus due to filtered air and mandated mask wearing. “We remain confident that this layered approach significantly reduces risk,” the group said.
“We remain in the midst of a serious pandemic and still over 90 percent of our population is not fully vaccinated, though we are working hard to get there,” Walensky said.
“Therefore, everyone, whether vaccinated or not, should continue to avoid medium and large-sized gatherings as well as non-essential travel,” she said.
“And when in public spaces should continue to wear a well-fitted mask, physically distance and follow other public health measures to protect themselves and others,” Walensky added.
And while health experts may be worried, some Americans don’t seem to be that bothered by their warnings.
Over the past five days, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) reported screening 5.6 million travelers in the US.
On March 4 and 5, a little over 1.1 million people were screened at US airports with an additional 991,000 reported on March 6.
Wyoming Gov Mark Gordon said on Monday that the state will remove its mask requirement and allow bars, restaurants, theaters and gyms to resume normal operations on March 16.
“I thank the people of Wyoming for their commitment to keeping one another safe throughout this pandemic,’ Gordon said. ‘I ask all Wyoming citizens to continue to take personal responsibility for their actions and stay diligent as we look ahead to the warmer months and to the safe resumption of our traditional spring and summer activities.”
Wyoming has seen a declining number of active COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, according to state officials.
The state has recorded more than 46,000 infections and 682 deaths.
And on Monday, the TSA screened an addition 1.1 million passengers.
In addition to airline travel, hundreds of spring breakers were seen soaking up some sun in Florida over the weekend.
Bikini-clad college students flooded onto beaches and crammed into bars in Miami and Fort Lauderdale to kick of their vacation.
Mississippians were seen partying at bars and restaurants after the state’s governor lifted COVID-19 restrictions on March 3.
Hundreds of people took to the streets of Mississippi without a mask in sight on Friday night.
Oxford, home of Ole Miss, saw people out in full force, eating at restaurants and shopping at stores like the coronavirus pandemic was a distant memory – rather than a virus that has killed more than half a million people.
Similar sights are expected in Texas this week after Gov Gregg Abbott said the state will be lifting restrictions beginning on Wednesday despite the fact that over 42,000 in Texas have died of COVID-19.
On March 16, Wyoming Gov Mark Gordon plans to reopen the state fully.
Gordon said Monday that the state will remove its mask requirement and allow bars, restaurants, theaters and gyms to resume normal operations next week.
Walensky’s remarks came on the same day the CDC issued new guidelines for fully vaccinated people.
Without face masks, fully vaccinated people can meet other vaccinated people and visit unvaccinated people in a single household who are at low risk for severe disease.
Currently, 31.5 million Americans have been fully vaccinated by Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine or the two-dose series from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.
On average, providers are administering about 2.1 million doses per day.
Officials say a person is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving the last required dose of vaccine, either two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna shot or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson jab.
Meanwhile, various groups and countries are working on developing the so-called vaccine passports aimed at allowing more travel. The passports would let travelers show they have been tested and vaccinated for COVID-19.
But airlines fear that a smattering of regional credentials will cause confusion and none will be widely accepted.
“It is crucial to establish uniform guidance’ and ‘the US must be a leader in this development,” more than two dozen groups said in a letter Monday to White House coronavirus-response coordinator Jeff Zients.
However, the groups said that vaccination should not be a requirement for domestic or international travel.
The groups include the main US and international airline trade organizations, airline labor unions and the US Chamber of Commerce. The White House did not immediately comment.
The World Health Organization and the United Nations’ aviation arm are working on the type of information to include in a credential.
The airline industry groups are particularly interested in having the CDC take a leading role, believing that would increase certainty that information in the credentials is legitimate.
Airlines have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic. Despite a partial recovery, US airlines are still losing $150million a day, according to the Airlines for America trade group.
In the US, the number of people going through airports remains down nearly 60 percent so far this year compared to 2019, the last normal, pre-pandemic year.
Most of those people are flying within the United States.
Airlines are counting on widespread vaccinations to boost travel, and for vaccine passports to give a boost to highly lucrative international flying.