In 2020, as the COVID-19 virus spread across the globe, Dr. David Edwards, an aerosol scientist and faculty member at Harvard University’s School of Engineering, released the Fast Emergency Nasal Defence (FEND) Mist Maker, a product specifically aimed to help its users improve airway hygiene.

Now, as the Delta variant causes newfound safety concerns for travelers, Dr. Edwards weighs in on its impact for travelers — both those who are vaccinated against COVID-19, and those who are not.

What do travelers need to know right now about the Delta variant? What is it, and how does it compare to the original strain of COVID-19?

The Delta variant of the coronavirus is a double mutation of the original strain of SARS-CoV-2. Viruses mutate as they spread in a population. Those mutations with more ability to spread than others naturally supplant other forms of the virus as the predominant strains of infection.

Since the start of the pandemic, there have been many variants of interest, or “VOIs” as identified by the World Health Organization. The Delta variant appears to be several hundred times more contagious than the original strain. Our own data suggests the Delta variant is far more able to enter the air than previous forms of the virus.

The Delta variant appears to be several hundred times more contagious than the original strain. Our own data suggests the Delta variant is far more able to enter the air than previous forms of the virus.

How could this variant impact the travel experience moving forward? What tips do you have about protecting yourself from the Delta variant while traveling?

The Delta variant merely reinforces the importance of vaccination and the use of all means of hygienic care in staying safe from infection in any environment where exposure to the virus is possible — travel included.

Let’s start with vaccination. Those who are not vaccinated, and even those who are, [should wear] double masks while traveling, assure that one is traveling with an airline that does all it can to respect social distance regulations, and minimize time spent in crowds [while at the airport.] As a daily practice, hydrate the upper airways, whether by natural means (humid environments, inside and out, salty environments, as near the sea coast) or by airway hygiene –the daily nasal inhalation droplets of water and physiological salts to the upper airways.  [These] are new “lung” hygiene approaches that have emerged during the pandemic and, as with masks and social distancing, are proving effective at diminishing risks of infection and transmission or airborne disease generally. Vaccinated or not, one is at risk of infection and at transmitting infection and should be mindful of the best respiratory hygiene practices.

Should different precautions be taken depending on the mode of transportation? (Airplanes vs. busses, trains vs. cars, for example?)

Some modes of transport offer better circulated air than others. Crowded buses and cars without windows open can be particularly dangerous.

Do you anticipate further national or international travel restrictions and lockdowns to be put in place due to the spread of the Delta variant?

Given what we have seen in India over the past six months as Delta spread, and given the degree of global vaccination coverage, I believe that travel restrictions will be common and particularly lean into the importance of vaccination.

What should vaccinated travelers keep in mind when traveling right now, compared to non-vaccinated travelers?

I would not distinguish between personal mindfulness of vaccinated and non-vaccinated individuals. When one is in a setting of only vaccinated individuals, one is in a safer environment — the issue to bear in mind it that individual and collective thinking are two matters in a pandemic. Everyone should be vigilant personally. Populations can be more at ease as vaccination rates increase.

What should those working in the travel industry and dealing with traveling clients on a day-to-day basis be aware of when it comes to advising them on precautions, but still operating their businesses safely?

Leaders today should do everything they can to learn and adapt — to follow the science.  One of the challenges of this pandemic is that its scale and severity have pushed scientists to discover new approaches to protect ourselves, and to learn constantly about the nature of the disease threat. This can bring short- and long-term benefits to us all. Meanwhile, bringing what scientists are learning and sharing via the peer-reviewed literature to mass adoption will be a matter of industry leadership savvy.

By EMMA WEISSMANN, Digital Managing Editor  / TRAVELAGE WEST

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